The All Blacks beat France with an ominous display that was a worthy tribute to their remarkable captain. The man of the match, Israel Dagg, scored twice but Auckland belonged to Richie McCaw, three times the world player of the year, who celebrated becoming the first New Zealander to win 100 caps.
McCaw could not have asked for a better result and he was clearly moved when he received a silver commemorative cap after the final whistle from the former All Black captain Jock Hobbs, who retired as chairman of the NZRU due to illness.
McCaw is hoping he will be collecting more silverware here in four weeks' time, and after this display from his team there will be few able to see anyone stopping him.
McCaw said: "To reach a milestone like that... you never want to put personal achievements ahead of the team, but to do it in front of a home crowd, in a World Cup and against France, I can't think of anything better. Every single moment in the All Blacks jersey has been a huge memory and I love it just as much today as the first time I put that jersey on.
"There's a long way to go but I'm looking forward to the next four or five weeks and hopefully we can do something special."
New Zealand have been haunted by the French at World Cups, suffering famous defeats in 1999 and 2007, and this fixture has been etched into the nation's consciousness since the draw was made, three years ago.
Having spent the first 10 minutes under pressure, New Zealand effectively ended the contest in a 10-minute spell of sublime rugby. Adam Thomson, Cory Jane and Dagg scored tries for a 19-3 half-time lead before Dagg and Sonny Bill Williams scored in the second period. Maxime Mermoz and François Trinh-Duc had scored opportunistic tries but France were simply overwhelmed in midfield.
Their captain, Thierry Dusautoir, said: "We made too many mistakes. We came back at the end of the second half but we need to work hard again and we took away a good lesson in this game. Unfortunately in the first half our scrum was not so good but it was better in the second half. That allowed us to score some tries but we were not good enough."
Conspiracy theories suggesting that France wanted to lose the game, in order to stay in a likely northern-hemisphere side of the draw, whirled around New Zealand this week after Marc Lièvremont selected the scrum-half Morgan Parra at fly-half for the first time. Yet that nearly proved a master stroke: Parra struck the post with a drop-goal after three minutes and the No8, Louis Picamoles, was unable to hold the rebound for a try.
France then had a strong call for a penalty try when Damien Traille was tackled in mid-air by Jane as they contested Dimitri Yachvili's cross-field kick. But Piri Weepu then got New Zealand on the front foot, from where Ma'a Nonu exposed the French defence and Dan Carter sent Thomson over. Weepu was the instigator for the second try, throwing the defence with a feint and offloading to Jane, who swatted Maxime Médard with ease. Four minutes later, Carter ghosted between two front-rowers before delivering a scoring pass to Dagg.
It took a Jerome Kaino elbow into the face of Yachvili to give France their only points of the half. Sonny Bill Williams showed strength and vision to create Dagg's second after the break and Mermoz picked off Carter's pass to score before Trinh-Duc scored a controversial second. William Servat was held up by Carter and while the try was being adjudicated upon, France tapped and went to score. However, Ali Williams gathered the re-start and Colin Slade tore clear before Sonny Bill Williams completed the rout.
New Zealand I Dagg; C Jane (SB Williams, 33), C Smith, M Nonu, R Kahui (C Slade, 61); D Carter, P Weepu (A Ellis, 55); T Woodcock, K Mealamu (A Hore, 55), O Franks (B Franks, 68), B Thorn, S Whitelock (A Williams, 55), J Kaino, A Thomson (A Boric, 72), R McCaw (capt).
France D Traille (C Heymans, 40); V Clerc, A Rougerie (F Estebanez, 68), M Mermoz, M Médard; M Parra (F Trinh-Duc, 63), D Yachvili; JB Poux, D Szarzewski (W Servat, 52), L Ducalcon (F Barcella, 40), P Pape, L Nallet, T Dusautoir (capt), L Picamoles (I Harinordoquy, 40), J Bonnaire.
Referee A Rolland (Ireland).
Tries: Thomson, Jane, Dagg 2, SB Williams
Cons: Carter 3
Tries: Mermoz, Trinh-Duc
Cons: Yachvili 2
Pen: YachviliReuse content