Defending champions New Zealand have emphatically stamped their authority on the Rugby World Cup with a record-breaking 62-13 rout of France in the quarter-finals in Cardiff.
New Zealand played with a compelling mix of muscle and speed to outclass the French, laying to rest the ghosts of a 20-18 loss in the equivalent game in 2007 between the same teams, also at Millennium Stadium when the All Blacks suffered their earliest tournament exit.
Powerhouse winger Julian Savea scored three of their nine tries as the All Blacks left behind a series of error-strewn performances during pool play and set up a semi-final against South Africa at Twickenham on Saturday.
It was the highest score and biggest winning margin in the history of RWC knockout matches and also New Zealand’s highest score against France, surpassing a 61-10 result in Wellington eight years ago.
It was a world away from the last RWC meeting of the teams, when the All Blacks won a tense 2011 final at Eden Park 8-7.
Captain Richie McCaw says he had sensed all week his team were capable of something special.
“The intensity was always going to be up a notch. We’d talked about it needing to be,” he said.
“I’m very proud of the guys, especially the way at the start of the game we got into it and applied pressure.
“All it’s done is earn ourselves another week. It’s exciting but we certainly won’t get ahead of ourselves.”
New Zealand unleashed clinical rugby in nearly every facet, shedding the handling errors and disjointed attack of the last month.
Rather than play conservatively in a sudden death match, they attacked with width and employed offloads to potent effect to routinely bust the French defensive line.
Their only concerns will be injuries to prop Wyatt Crockett (groin) and winger Nehe Milner-Skudder (shoulder), who didn’t contest the second half because of injuries.
Early penalties were traded between All Blacks five-eighth Dan Carter – who finished with 17 points – and French fullback Scott Spedding before lock Brodie Retallick scored New Zealand’s first try through a charge down.
Milner-Skudder crossed before Savea bagged a double, barging spectacularly through two defenders on the stroke of halftime to open up a 29-13 lead.
France’s lone try was scored by their muscular No.8 Louis Picamoles.
The French began the second half strongly but the wind went out of their sails when Picamoles was shown a yellow card for roughing up a prone All Blacks skipper Richie McCaw.
The All Blacks capitalised with a try to flanker Jerome Kaino, sparking a spate of scoring.
Savea bagged his hat-trick in the 60th minute, storming 50m following a turnover to take his tournament tally to eight.
A try to No.8 Kieran Read was followed by a double to reserve halfback Tawera Kerr-Barlow – one of which was via a memorable offload from prop Joe Moody.
French captain Thierry Dusautoir says the All Blacks were outstanding although his team allowed them to be.
“We were unable to play our game and they scored their tries too easily,” he said.
“It’s a big disappointment to be out of the tournament this way but they were too strong for us.
“They are very fast and every chance they have, they can score tries.”
The Springboks were involved in a far tighter contest on Saturday, needing a late try to beat Wales 23-19 at Twickenham.
The southern hemisphere giants haven’t met in a RWC knockout match since 2003, when the All Blacks won comfortably 29-9 in Melbourne.