New Zealand beats France 30-0 in 2nd test
CHRISTCHURCH, New Zealand (AP) -New Zealand celebrated the 500th test match of its 110-year rugby history with a comprehensive 30-0 win over France in the second test on Saturday, claiming a winning 2-0 lead in the three-match series.
The All Blacks improved their overall record to 378 wins, 104 losses and 18 draws - a 75 percent winning rate - by adding its 40th victory in 53 test matches against France.
After an unconvincing 23-13 win in the first test at Auckland, New Zealand improved in every area at Christchurch's Rugby Park and contemptuously swept aside what was expected to be a much stronger challenge from a strengthened French team.
Wingers Julian Savea and Ben Smith and replacement Beauden Barrett scored tries for an All Blacks team which ruled every aspect of the match.
All Blacks coach Steve Hansen and his fellow selectors decided to retain a starting 15 unchanged from the first test at Eden Park, and their faith in that lineup to improve its performance proved justified. The main areas of deficiency from the first test - New Zealand's physical approach, its combination and its tactical kicking game - became areas of strength on Saturday, with the hosts beating France for the eighth time in nine meetings on Saturday.
"I'm extremely happy. The effort we put in on defense really showed the character we've got,'' said All Blacks captain Kieran Read, making his 50th test appearance.
New Zealand held France scoreless in a test for the first time in their 53 meetings.
"It's not easy on a night like this and the boys really stepped up which was great,'' Read said. "I think our defense was great but when we got opportunities we really made them pay and the boys at the back put us in the right areas. As a forward it's nice running onto the ball which we did all night tonight.''
The other key aspect of the match was the regression of the French side. Where they had physically outplayed New Zealand in Auckland, they suddenly became timid and stand-offish.
New Zealand turned the inconclusive contest in set pieces during the first test into an area of overwhelming advantage and, more spectacularly, converted the physical lesson France delivered at breakdowns in Auckland into a forum in which they were the masters.
The All Blacks dismantled the France scrum, they disrupted and often dispossessed its lineout, they took command of the breakdowns at the expense of a French team which couldn't rise again to the standard of the first test and they turned those advantages into an insurmountable territorial domination.
They then attacked the French line with sharpness and accuracy, leading to tries to Savea in the first half and Smith and Barrett in the second. They also shut down any threat from the French backline, thought to have been stiffened by the inclusion of veteran Frederic Michalak at flyhalf.
France's backline stars seemed to have no stomach to run the ball into the All Blacks' forceful tackles. At best they crabbed across the field or left the task of taking the ball forward to forwards. Maxime Medard, who was expected to add penetration with his return to fullback, was notably disinterested in challenging the defense and was replaced at halftime.
The tourists had no stomach for the physical contest, though they engaged in persistent and calculated illegal play off the ball. In an unbalanced performance, referee Alain Rolland blew seven penalties to one against New Zealand in the first half.
When New Zealand scored one of the finest tries in its test history - an end to end effort finished by Barrett in the 73rd minute - Rolland asked the television official to reject the try for a forward pass. There was none and the try stood.
New Zealand, to its advantage, showed an ability to learn from its first test mistakes. Its loose forwards became more ruthless and more accurate and its backs ran with determination and clear purpose. Savea and fullback Israel Dagg, whose retention had been questioned after poor first test performances, both validated their selections with strong and effective efforts.
Dagg was strong under the high ball and decisive in his incursions into the All Blacks backline. Flyhalf Aaron Cruden, who was criticized for a diffident first test performance, was authoritative on Saturday, kicking 15 points, and managing the All Blacks game with his tactical kicking.
He handled the ball twice in the try to Barrett, providing the initial pass that set the 95 meter movement in motion then brilliantly held the ball up for Barrett to allow the youngster - on the field for only a minute - to dash under the posts.
Savea's try in only the fourth minute of the match had put New Zealand on the front foot. He scored after center Ma'a Nonu had first put New Zealand on attack with an angled kick and, when New Zealand claimed the French lineout, had put another kick through for Savea to score.
Ben Smith then scored at the start of the second half after France, with a long period of possession, had been unable to break down the All Blacks' defense. Frustrated, they resorted to a dropped goal attempt by Michalak but the kick was charged down and New Zealand again swept the length of the field to score.
France captain Thierry Dusautoir said his team had been outplayed but still held hopes of claiming a win in the last test in New Plymouth next weekend.
"It was very hard tonight because of their good defense,'' he said. "We are going to do our maximum next week in order to win that one test.''
New Zealand 30 (Julian Savea, Ben Smith, Beauden Barrett tries; Aaron Cruden 3 conversions, 3 penalties), France 0. HT: 10-0.