There are must-win games and games you simply cannot lose and this, for New Zealand, was definitely the latter. It is hard to imagine any of these All Blacks could have shown their face in public again had this match gone any other way. A combination of factors – hosting a World Cup, playing at Eden Park, facing the French in Richie McCaw's historic 100th Test appearance – imbued this fixture with unique significance in the Kiwi psyche.
In the end, McCaw's men ticked all the boxes with a mixture of brute force and sublime skill that sent an ominous warning to anyone daring to contemplate upsetting the party.
Dan Carter, who ended the game with 12 points, said: "It was a game that we really targeted. It was really pleasing, especially for Richie. We were doing it for Richie. The focus was on doing it for him rather than what happened four years ago [when the All Blacks lost to France in the quarter-finals].
"It was tougher than the games we had in pool play in 2007. In patches we played well and once we got our hands on the ball and played territory, we came right with some good tries."
France have so often played the role of giantkillers at the World Cup, with previous wins in 1999 and 2007, but after coming away empty-handed from their opening 10-minute purple patch, they were unable to keep the All Blacks' midfield under wraps.
The French had New Zealand on the ropes with their opening salvo. Morgan Parra struck the post with a drop goal attempt and the rebound narrowly escaped the rushing Louis Picamoles. Moments later, a strong claim for a penalty try, after Cory Jane clearly tackled Damien Traille in mid-air as they competed for Dimitri Yachvili's perfectly judged cross-field kick, was criminally ignored by referee Alain Rolland.
Yet the All Blacks soaked up the punches and responded decisively with three tries in quick succession, for Adam Thomson, Cory Jane and Israel Dagg, that left Les Bleus reeling at 19-0.
"I have quite a few regrets, especially about the first half where the All Blacks scored three tries within 15 minutes even though we started off the match well," the France coach, Marc Lièvremont, said. "Unfortunately we didn't open the scoring and left it to the All Blacks to take the lead. They remained calm at the beginning of the match and scored with their first good opportunity. That's hard to accept.
"Despite that, the players tried to stay in the match. I also regret the fact that we managed to somehow get back into the match when the score was 32-17 and then they scored a try just after the kick-off. The talent of the All Blacks punished us on various occasions."
Rumours continue to circulate of unrest within the French camp – as though that is anything new – testing the coach's patience. Asked whether France could still win the World Cup, Lièvremont hit back: "Go to hell with your question. The goal was and still is to qualify."
It was not all plain sailing for the All Blacks – man of the match Dagg, who grabbed a second try before Sonny Bill Williams wrapped up the win, suffered a dead leg and there are also injury concerns over Jane, Richard Kahui and Thomson.
Scorers: New Zealand: Tries Thomson, Jane, I Dagg (2), SB Williams; Conversions Carter (3); Penalty Carter; Drop goal Carter. France: Tries Mermoz, F Trinh-Duc; Conversions Yachvili (2); Penalty Yachvili.
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 Medard; M Parra (F Trinh-Duc, 63), D Yachvili; J-B 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).Reuse content