18 Oct 2015

OPINION: Emphatic - an 80-minute definition

4:40 pm on 18 October 2015

Hands up if you thought Tawera Kerr-Barlow was going to get two tries in this game? Again, hands up if you knew they'd be to bring up the margin of victory to an unbelievable 49 points? If your hand is up and unless you're his mum, I'm sorry, but you're a filthy stinking liar.

Tawera Kerr-Barlow goes in for his first try during today's Rugby World Cup game between New Zealand and France.

Tawera Kerr-Barlow goes in for his first try during today's Rugby World Cup game between New Zealand and France. Photo: AFP

In fact, hands up if you even knew he was playing? His inclusion on the bench was one bit of info that got completely lost in the maelstrom of 2007 talk during the week. Yes, I'm one of the guilty parties that penned a look back to the corresponding quarter final against France eight years ago. But today the All Blacks made sure such words may never, ever be tapped into a keyboard ever again.

Devastating doesn't even begin to describe this performance. This was a startling, horrific reminder to the world of the epic scale of rugby vivisection the All Blacks are capable of. The French weren't just beaten, they had their civilization destroyed and their earth salted after the last rites were performed.

Said rites probably could've been read out just before halftime, when Julian Savea roared back into form by scoring the second of his three tries. Ben Smith's incredible high-ball take gave The Bus room to move but still a bit of work to do, in the form of two French defenders. Savea simply channeled his inner Lomu and blasted through them as if they were made of polystyrene.

no metadata

Julian Savea's huge try against France in the quarter final of the 2015 Rugby world Cup Photo: RNZ / Jamie Wall

Up until then, the game had been a bit of a punch and counter-punch affair. The All Blacks had been getting the better of the bout, Brodie Retallick's face provided an excellent surface for Freddie Michalak to kick the ball into. The big lock then cleaned up the scraps to scoop and score the first try.

France had a few periods of sustained pressure and the All Blacks will be dirty about Louis Picamoles' try, but not as dirty as Picamoles should be with himself for punching Richie McCaw. The subsequent yellow card removed any doubt that this not going to be France's day.

Not that it would've mattered. More or less everything the All Blacks did worked, the handling errors that proved so annoying in the pool play were nowhere to be seen.

That led to the one thing played completely into the All Black's hands: the fact that there were a grand total of seven scrums in the entire game, with only one in the first half. None were reset or turned into a shove-fest, meaning the All Black tight forwards could save their energy to roam free. They did this with stunning success, both replacement props Charlie Faumuina and Joe Moody throwing the final passes for tries. For Moody it's exceptionally impressive, he'd only just stepped off a plane to join the team a matter of days ago.

A few players headed into this game with some points to prove and all of them did just that and, in Dan Carter's case probably a bit more. His nerveless early kicks sailed straight through the sticks, while Jerome Kaino and Kieran Read silenced doubters with outstanding games. The official Man Of The Match was Savea, but in reality it could've been anyone wearing an All Black jersey.

The only lowlight was an early end to the game for Nehe Milner-Skudder, whose step to score the second try sent French winger Brice Dulin into a veritable chamber of horrors.

Reports that the French team had internally sacked coach Philippe Saint-Andre before the game have yet to be confirmed. Right now he'll probably be desperately trying to prove them true (even if they aren't) to absolve himself of any connection to this disaster. But the reality is when the All Blacks are in a mood like they were in today, no sort of pre-match distraction could've altered the result.

Except maybe food poisoning… Wait, who are we playing next weekend again?

Changing Room Comment, by Jamie Wall

Jamie 'The Benchwarmer' Wall grew up in Wellington and enjoyed a stunningly mediocre rugby career in which the sole highlight was a seat on the bench for his club's premier side. He's enjoyed far more success spouting his viewpoints on the game to anyone who'll care to listen.

The Benchwarmer's Comment will run throughout the World Cup on radionz.co.nz