New Zealand 37; France 17
The hosts of Cardiff 2007 haven't quite been exorcised; that won't happen for another four weeks. But New Zealand put France to the sword at Eden Park last night in front of a crowd of 60,800 in a performance that will have had other RWC2011-aspiring coaches paying very close attention.
France came out breathing fire, and piled into the All Blacks for the first eight minutes, during which the All Blacks barely touched the ball. And then came the moment that changed the match, and possibly more. France fed a scrum on the All Black 22m line, and the All Black scrum giant awoke. The French scrum was splintered, and the All Blacks won a penalty. From the lineout on half-way Ma'a Nonu made a bust, the ball was swung left, and Adam Thompson crashed over in the left-hand corner.
It was a match-defining moment, and the French looked stunned. It was no surprise that New Zealand ripped them apart in midfield twice more in quick succession via Cory Jane and Israel Dagg to take a 19-nil lead.
This will have been a sweet victory for Graham Henry, Richie McCaw and the other survivors of Cardiff '07. The French were dispatched with a mixture of agression and panache. The forwards were brutal, smashing the French scrum time and again in the first half. The All Blacks were far superior at the breakdown, and that gave the backline a platform from which to attack the French midfield which they did with great effect.
And here's the best news; this was far from a perfect All Black performance, and there is room for improvement. But if this is the nucleus of Graham Henry's First XV, then we reckon he's got the recipe right. Kieran Read will hopefully return next week against Canada, but barring injuries (and there were a few; hopefully none serious) Henry now has a formidable New Zealand team. Sure; there will be arguments over a few positions, but Henry and his side answered their critics last night with a pretty emphatic performance against the enigmatic French.
The All Blacks now have a play-off place wrapped up, and with three bonus-point wins, they are the only team at RWC2011 with the perfect record after three matches. There is a lot of rugby to be played before the Webb Ellis Cup is handed over to the winning captain on 23 October, but there was a lot to like about the manner of the New Zealand performance last night, and it was the icing on the cake for Richie McCaw's 100th test match.