The only glimmer of hope for the rest was the fact that the French were so hopeless, completely losing their heads in the second half as they allowed New Zealand to run riot.
France had been hoping to summon the spirit of their heroic victories over the All Blacks in 1999 and 2007, the latter win taking place at this venue at the same stage of the tournament.
To do so, the French press had demanded an uprising, L’Equipe running a front page headline “L’appel a la revolte” (a call to revolt) on Tuesday. Another report suggested the players had taken heed of that advice, with Philippe Saint-Andre losing the confidence of his players in the build-up to this match.
France’s captain Thierry Dusautoir denied that was the case. Either way, Saint-Andre is gone now, replaced by Guy Noves. He departed to a chorus of boos; an ignominious end for one of France’s all time greats.
“Well to be honest you would rather be clapped than booed so of course [I’m disappointed] but I’m mostly disappointed for the players today because we cannot say they did not give their all,” Saint-Andre argued.
Some might beg to differ. France were on the back foot from the first whistle as Steve Hansen’s men, no doubt drawing their own inspiration from past ignominies, tore into their red-shirted opponents. Nonu had already twice found gaps by the time Carter kicked his first points of the night after six minutes.
Despite not having left their own half, France drew level two minutes later, Scott Spedding’s monster boot landing a penalty from way, way out. But New Zealand were already looking ominous ball in hand and France were having to play fast and loose in an effort to keep up.
Frederic Michalak’s clearance was charged down by second row Brodie Retallick who sprinted home for the first try of the evening. Michalak, who had already missed three tackles, hobbled off clutching his hamstring but his pride may have been just as wounded.
Remi Tales came on and France briefly threatened to make a game of it. Morgan Parra kicked a penalty to make it 10-6 and then missed an even easier effort which would have made it a one-point game.
Louis Picamoles popped up on the left wing with a barnstorming run. But New Zealand were about to move things up a gear. A backline move saw Nonu manage a superb offload, releasing Nehe Milner-Skudder who stepped inside off his wing before pinning back his ears and charging for the line.
New Zealand kept their foot to the floor, Savea grabbing two tries before the break, the first from a Carter offload, the second thanks to a quite brilliant catch from full-back Ben Smith from his own up-and-under, grabbing the ball out of Picamoles’ hands and leaving the France No 8 crumpled on the turf. The ball was shipped left to Savea, who barged Noa Nakaitaci and then Spedding out of the way en route to his seventh try of this World Cup, making him the tournament’s leading scorer. Those two Savea tries were broken up by one for France, with Picamoles going over from close range, making it 29-13 at the break.
New Zealand had only ever lost twice in World Cup matches when leading at half-time, both times against the French, but France hit the self-destruct button in the second half. Picamoles got himself sent to the sin bin for pushing Richie McCaw in the face. He was lucky not to see red. New Zealand took full advantage, Jerome Kaino going over in the left-hand corner.
Photo: REX FEATURES
The 71,619 inside the Millennium Stadium could see it was all over, the mood becoming faintly surreal as Ireland’s fans, in town ahead of their clash with Argentina on Sunday, began singing The Fields of Athenry.
For France there was no respite. Sonny Bill Williams, New Zealand’s former national boxing champion, entered the fray and the All Blacks promptly scored their sixth try of the evening, Savea completing his hat-trick to join Jonah Lomu and Bryan Habana as the joint-highest try scorer in a World Cup with eight.
The rout was completed by Kieran Rean, Kerr-Barlow (twice), and Nonu, who fittingly capped a wonderful performance with his team’s final try.
France, their uprising a shambles, announced afterwards that Sunday morning’s media call had been cancelled as they had to leave for home early.
New Zealand march on, the ghosts of 1999 and 2007 firmly laid to rest.
“We weren’t thinking about that,” captain Richie McCaw shrugged. “All we’ve done today is earn a chance of playing in the semi-final.”
The Springboks have been warned.