The All Blacks celebrated their 500th Test with a thumping 30-0 win over old rivals France yesterday, which secured victory in their three-Test series.
An astute kicking game laid the groundwork and the All Blacks powered home after an early try to Julian Savea, and two crowd-pleasing scores in the second half from Ben Smith and Beauden Barrett.
New Zealand’s 378th victory in 500 internationals, which makes them one of the most successful teams in all sports, follows last week’s 23-13 win in Auckland and gives them an unassailable 2-0 series lead with a game to spare.
“I’m extremely happy,” All Blacks captain Kieran Read said. “The effort we put in in defense really showed the character we have got. It’s not easy on a [wet] night like this and the boys really stepped up.”
The home team led 10-0 at halftime and added 20 points in the second period, while France, who ran New Zealand close last week, finished scoreless against them for the first time.
“Unfortunately we couldn’t score any points tonight. They played very well, with great defense,” France skipper Thierry Dusautoir said. “We’re hoping to do the maximum to fight back in order to win that one Test. There’s one Test left, so we’re going to do the maximum to win.”
The renowned flair of France made them a threat when they had an opportunity to run with the ball, but their opportunities were few, because they were continually forced into a defensive game by an All Blacks aerial bombardment.
All Blacks coach Steve Hansen had demanded an improvement on the stumbling first Test win in Auckland a week ago and the team took notice.
Before a capacity crowd of 21,000 who braved chilly, wet conditions, they were a far more settled unit the second time around against their 2011 World Cup final opponents.
Read and Liam Messam lead an effective nullifying of the French strength at the breakdown, and the scrum held its own despite the addition of Nicolas Mas into the French front row.
However, it was the kicking game, so wayward a week ago, that produced the result as France were kept pinned deep in their own half.
Their best opportunity to breach the All Blacks defense came early in the second half when a series of pick-and-goes, and half-breaks by Wesley Fofana and Yohann Huget, took them through 17 phases inside the All Blacks 22.
However, when the move eventually broke down, the All Blacks showed their game was not all about kicking and triggered a length-of-the-field counterattack that ended with a try to Ben Smith under the posts.
It was their kicking that engineered their first try in the third minute of the game, when they drilled France into a corner.
Sam Whitelock stole the defensive lineout from debutant Bernard le Roux and a delicately weighted grubber kick from center Ma’a Nonu allowed Savea to scamper over for the try.
Despite a superior territory advantage, the All Blacks had to wait 15 minutes and at a rare moment when they were inside their own 22 to set up their next points.
A Frederic Michalak penalty attempt bounced off the upright into the arms of Read, playing his 50th Test, and the All Blacks captain swatted aside tacklers in a 50m run upfield.
When he was lowered, a Cruden kick took the All Blacks up to the line where the desperately defending France conceded a penalty, which the flyhalf converted into three points.
For the rest of the half, the defending France, led by the hard-hitting Dusautoir, “the Dark Destroyer,” kept the All Blacks at bay.
The big France push at the start of the second half came unstuck when out of frustration at not being able to breach the All Blacks defense they reverted to a drop-goal attempt, only for Sam Cane to charge down Michalak’s kick.
The All Blacks recovered the ball, with Savea leading the break downfield and sending Ben Smith over for the try.
Cruden added two further penalties before the All Blacks’ final try, another breakout effort from their own line started by Rene Ranger and finished under the posts by replacement Beauden Barrett after a delicious offload from Cruden.