AB's, England win on big RWC night

by RUGBY.com.au staff

New Zealand overwhelmed France 37-17 on Saturday night to take clinical revenge for past Rugby World Cup humiliations after England also served notice they are serious contenders for a second title.

In captain Richie McCaw's record 100th Test, the All Blacks soaked up French pressure and scored almost at will with three first-half tries, before Israel Dagg secured the four-try bonus point with his second effort just after the break.

France restored respectability with two second-half scores but it was New Zealand, after a rare drop goal from fly-half Dan Carter, who had the last laugh with their fifth try through replacement winger Sonny Bill Williams.

"We had to absorb a fair bit early on but I was proud of the way the boys did that, and then when we get our opportunity we put points on the board. In big Test matches that's what you've got to do," said McCaw.

"It's being clinical when you get your opportunities. When you get to tournaments like this it's about taking them so the boys held their cool and when we got our chances we took them."

The impressive victory delighted New Zealand's fans in a sold-out Eden Park stadium who still chafe at memories of 1999 and 2007, when the All Blacks were shocked by France.

But the win also handed 1987 champions New Zealand a treacherous path to the final with likely knock-out games against Argentina or Scotland and either South Africa or Australia to come.

Earlier England also hit form with a 67-3 hammering of outclassed Romania which showcased some blistering attacking play and brought a welcome distraction from the lurid gossip stories which have overshadowed their campaign.

Mark Cueto marked his first appearance of the tournament with a jet-heeled hat-trick and fellow wing Chris Ashton pounced for three more with Ben Youngs, Ben Foden, Manu Tuilagi and Tom Croft also on the scoresheet.

The 10-try rout made it a three wins out of three in Pool B for the 2003 title-winners, making them a near-certainty for the last eight as they seek their third successive final.

"We looked at our performances last week and we had a lot to improve on and we did that today. We've still got areas to work on but the performance across the board was much better," said England captain Lewis Moody.

"That's what happens when we keep hold of the ball and do the basics right."

Australia licked their wounds after Friday's damaging win over the United States which cost them a fractured cheekbone, dislocated shoulder, concussion, hamstring strain and other problems.

"At first glance, it doesn't look great," said coach Robbie Deans, who may now fly in replacements to rescue a tottering title bid already hit by a shock defeat to Ireland.

Defending champions South Africa gave lock Bakkies Botha an ultimatum to prove his fitness or head home after their final pool game against Samoa, who must first negotiate Sunday's bruising clash with fellow Pacific heavyweights Fiji.

"When you play any island team you know you're going to have a physical battle on the day and for me it's whoever makes the least mistakes and who's the strongest on the day," said Samoa's 135-kilo (297 pounds) prop Census Johnston.

"We played Fiji a couple of months back and they beat us by a few points. We let their backs run a lot so we have to try to negate that. And the only way to negate that is to smash them in the forwards."

Fiji flanker Dominiko Waqaniburotu will miss the game after losing his appeal against a three-match ban for a dangerous tip tackle during their defeat to South Africa.

And Wales said they will give veteran fly-half Stephen Jones, 33, a record 101st cap in Monday's game against African minnows Namibia, surpassing the 100 appearances made by Gareth Thomas.

"It's a massive honour for him," said coach Warren Gatland.