The All Blacks demolished France in Cardiff on Saturday night. New Zealand picked them apart in every facet of the game. Line out steals, scrum dominance, flawless handling skills in attack, a hunger in defence and repeated moments of individual brilliance, this performance had everything.
The rumours of mutiny in the camp appear to have been at least somewhat true. The French players attempted to play the game the French way, using individual skills and showing a willingness to attack from anywhere. A decision had clearly been made that they would not play the stilted, boring rugby of the past 4 years under departing coach, Phillipe Saint-André. It was the charge of the light brigade, as the world opened up in thunder and shot around them, the French charged on regardless. Trying to play the game the way they did in their youth. Michalak went down, tries rained in, still they charged and the charge became a disorganised rout.
Spedding taking a tap-and-go from his own 22 with three minutes to play in the first period summed up the attitude of the French. They wanted to unsettle New Zealand, play the unstructured rugby which had seen French teams disrupt the All Blacks’ march to the final in previous tournaments. For brief moments in attack, mostly in the first half, this was an ode to the days of French teams playing beautiful, fluid rugby. The style which saw players free to play off the cuff and attack from anywhere. However, New Zealand were playing a different game. 21st century rugby at its finest.
Morgan Parra stepped into the role of the scrumhalf General and achieved some occasional success in generating French momentum but, this was seldom, due to a disciplined All Black defence and expertise at the ruck area. They protected the ball doggedly while in possession and hunted for it in defence, disrupting French ball. Richie McCaw was everywhere in defence, slowing down play, spoiling any attempt at generating quick ball. He was ably assisted by a New Zealand team that, after last nights evidence, are on a mission to retain the World Cup which they claimed four years ago.
In attack, the All Blacks were sublime, utilising their time on the ball to play a simple and yet breathtaking game. The most impressive aspect of their performance was the manner in which they executed the simple passes. Props and second rowers distributing the ball with the speed and assuredness of any northern hemisphere back. No player in a black jersey showed an instinct to find contact as the first port of call, this attacking master class was a demonstration of the simple things done efficiently. Move the ball, look for space, fix a defender and move it again.
There were too many moments of brilliance from the men in black to name-check all those deserving, so I will highlight only a few. The passing exhibition on display allowed the world beaters NZ posses out wide to demonstrate their class. Milner-Skudder, on his 6th cap, caught the ball on the wing, accelerated and bounced off his right foot to leave his opposite number, Dumolin, snatching at empty space while he raced away for a score. Seven tries in six games. This vision for empty space and footwork are an example to anyone playing the game of the right way to carry. His balance and poise on the right wing was in contrast to the young man playing on the left.
Having finished off a simple try in the first half, Julian Savea exploded into the consciousness of the rugby world and casual fans with his Lomu-esque try in the second period. Set up by beautifully executed Aaron Smith pass of 20 yards or so, Savea bulldozed three of France’s biggest defenders in the space of five metres before dotting down, demonstrating the raw power he possesses. Rounding his hat-trick off with an exhibition of genuine speed, Savea ran the ball in from just short of halfway, leaving would-be French tacklers trailing behind hopelessly. This is a special young man, a player they call, ‘The Bus’. Can they do it against a brutal South African defence next weekend?
Not in the manner with which they disposed of this flailing French team, however it is difficult to imagine any side in the world stopping New Zealand when they play like they did on Saturday.