AUCKLAND, NZ – Richie McCaw earned his one hundredth cap in style, when his side beat France 37-17 in Eden Park, in front of a sell-out 60,856 crowd, when the two sides met at the Pool A stage of the Rugby World Cup in Auckland.
“I’m pretty lost for words.” – said the All Blacks captain. – “You never want to put personal achievements ahead of the team but to do it in front of your home fans, in a World Cup, playing the French, I could not think of anything better.”
A French side, that was criticised for its line-up as being a B team, put pressure on the All Blacks early on, however an early handling error ensured that New Zealand Number 8 Adam Thomson placed a try in the 10th minute, which fly-half Dan Carter failed to convert.
“We tried to do what we usually do, we had Dimitri [Szarzewski] in the beginning with a dense forward pack, but psychologically, that they scored, that was quite tough was us.” – said French head coach Marc Lievremont. – “ I hoped we will hold up the first half, but that was not the case. The substitutes added a lot of value, but the damage was done by then.”
Only six minutes later, All Blacks wing Cory Jane ran in a try after a perfectly executed sequence from the set piece, and this time Carter didn’t miss with the boot. Two minutes later a similar scenario yielded New Zealand fullback Israel Dagg his first try of a brace, which Carter converted. The two sides went to half-time 19-3 as French scrum half Dimitri Yachvili placed a penalty just before the whistle.
“I thought our launch plays off set piece early in the game were very good.” – said All Blacks head coach Graham Henry. – “It was good to have a game of this intensity at this stage of the competition.”
The second half was dominated by a well-structured and very clinical All Blacks side, breaking French defence line early on, sealing Dagg his brace within a minute that Carter converted, following up his boot work with a penalty and a drop goal. The All Blacks sealed the deal when substitute full back Sonny Bill Williams ran in a try in the 77th minute in the far right corner, where Carter missed the conversion.
The French also showed their worth, as centre Maxime Mermoz intercepted Carter’s floating pass and placed a try in the 54th minute that Yachvili converted. In the 76th, French substitute fly-half Francois Trinh-Duc placed an opportunistic try from penalty while Irish referee Alain Rolland was still distracted by the All Black front row. The try was awarded and Yachvili converted, but it was too little, too late for the French side.
Special thanks to YUKA SHIGA for the stellar photos!