We knew we had to turn it up notch and we applied the pressure early on. —Richie McCaw
by Roger Childs
A huge team effort
There were nine tries in the extraordinary 62-13 victory over France in the quarter final. It could have been ten if Ma’a Nonu hadn’t lost the ball on the line after a brilliant 50-metre run in the dying moments. It was a rare mistake in what was a wonderful team performance in which, as Steve Hansen remarked, everybody from number 1 to number 23 played their part.
There was concern that the All Blacks were not playing their best in pool play, and even though they won all four games convincingly, there was a plenty to work on. However no-one could have anticipated such a one-sided quarter-final with the New Zealanders turning in one of the greatest performances in World Cup history.
Intentions clear from the start
In the first few minutes the All Blacks were on the attack with crisp passing, penetrating running and excellent backing up of the ball carrier. There were early tries from the two wingers.
- Carter put Julian Savea away on the left wing and he showed his raw power and speed bumping off three would-be tacklers on his way to score behind the posts.
- Then on the right excellent passing from Conrad Smith and Ma’a Nonu saw Milner Skudder produce one of his dazzling runs, He cut back inside from the touchline, wrong footed three French players for a superb try.
The tries kept coming and Dan Carter was knocking over the conversions. The veteran first five was back to his best and made several breaks to set up his outsides. He was well served by half back Aaron Smith who cleared the ball quickly and accurately from lineouts, scrums and rucks.
Dominance based on forward supremacy
The All Black forwards took the game to the French from the outset. They disrupted their lineout, were competitive at ruck time and made many impressive surges in the open. The smooth combining with the backs was also a feature and it was rare for a pass to go astray.
Brodie Retallick was superb and showed his all round skills early on when he charged down a kick, re-gathered the ball and sprinted 20 metres for a try in the tenth minute. Fellow lock Sam Whitelock was key figure in the lineout, toiled in the tight and made some telling runs in the loose.
The loose forward trio was outstanding: foraging effectively for the ball in rucks, handling well and running strongly in the open. They also backed up the men with ball in hand and both Jerome Kaino and Keiran Read were rewarded with tries in the second spell.
The French did score one try in the first half from a slightly fortuitous pass, where the ball that rolled down a player’s back and was re-gathered for a score near the posts. However this was the only time the French looked like crossing the line.
More of the same
In the second half, the enthusiastic 70,000+ crowd and the millions of fans in front to of televisions around the world expected a French comeback. However any prospect of this happening were ruined when Louis Picamoles was send to the sin bin in the 46th minute, for attacking McCaw on the ground.
The All Blacks took advantage and more tries came. Steve Hansen brought on all the reserves during the half and all made a positive impact.
- Tawera Kerr-Barlow, elevated ahead of TJ Perenara as number two half back, continued the excellent service from the base of scrums and rucks, and as result of excellent backing was on hand to score two tries.
- One of these was from an off load delivered skilfully by Joe Moody who had recently come over from New Zealand to replace the injured Tony Woodcock. He made the most of his time on the field!
The backs at their best
Julian Savea who needed a quality game was named “man of the match” for his three tries and fierce tackling. Ben Smith had his best game of the tournament, running strongly from the back, timing his passing to perfection and twice robbing French players of the ball in the air.
The old firm of Smith and Nonu in mid field were in great touch, with the usual reliable defence and both made telling breaks. Nonu deserved that final try and did everything right except hold the ball on the tryline at the end!
The backs always looked dangerous with ball in hand and were constantly looking for gaps and chances to put unmarked players away.
Facing the old foe in the semi-final
The Springboks had to fight hard for their win over Wales. It was 19-18 to the Welsh with five minutes to go and they had scored the only try. However from a scrum close to the line Duane Vermeulen took the ball off to the left and off-loaded to half back Fourie du Preez to score in the corner.