A 14-point burst with France down to 14 men has been the catalyst for the All Blacks on their way to a thumping 52-11 win in their first match of 2018 in Auckland.
Down 8-11 at half-time and looking typically rusty in their opening fixture of the year, the hosts capitalised with ruthless precision when French lock Paul Guabrillagues was yellow carded in the 51st minute for a high tackle.
Tries to Codie Taylor and Ben Smith during Guabrillagues’ 10 minutes in the sin-bin not only took the All Blacks from level on the scoreboard to 14 in front, it also inspired a flood of points as the shellshocked visitors began to fall off tackles left, right and centre.
The home side scored another five tries over the closing 25 minutes of the match, eventually scoring eight tries to one in what was an emphatic statement against statistically the best defensive side in the world.
In the process, the All Blacks winning streak at Eden Park extended to 41 matches, while their streak against France now stands at 12 heading into the second test in Wellington next Saturday.
A sold-out crowd of more than 46,000 packed into the All Blacks’ fortress expectantly for the team’s 2018 season opener.
But the home supporters soon fell flat as French winger Remi Grosso snapped up an intercept in the seventh minute and sprinted 40 metres to open the scoring.
Chants of “Allez Les Blues” went up from a vocal contingent of French fans, and penalties were traded, before the first trio of brothers to start a match for the All Blacks combined to level the scores with a little more than a quarter of the contest gone.
Lock Scott Barrett made the initial burst, offloaded to younger brother and fullback Jordie, and after Ryan Crotty was brought down just five metres short, quick ball allowed first five-eighth Beauden Barrett to score in the corner.
The physical nature of the contest, and with that the number of errors, stepped up a level during the latter half of the first 40 and after a monster Parra penalty from 51 metres put the visitors back in front, the hosts missed their chance to take the lead into the break.
First Anton Lienert-Brown’s try was disallowed after an obstruction in the lead-up, before the All Blacks turned down two kickable penalties only for stand-in skipper Sam Whitelock to be held up over the line after the half-time hooter sounded.
After again turning down three points and again failing to capitalise soon after the resumption, the hosts eventually opted to level scores with a penalty.
Just minutes later, Guabrillagues trudged off to the bin and the match flipped on its head.
Taylor was first to benefit from a perfectly weighted Beauden Barrett grubber, before a quick throw and quick hands put Crotty away and, eventually Ben Smith over for the All Blacks third try.
In a frenetic final 25 minutes, the hosts were clinical and the French defence left more than a little to be desired.
Rieko Ioane got himself a double, while Damian McKenzie, Ngani Laumape and Ardie Savea all got over for five-pointers, several coming from inside their own half as a previously muted home crowd rocked and roared their way to full-time.
Chiefs prop Karl Tu’inukuafe made his All Blacks debut in the match, coming on in the 47th minute to complete a meteoric rise to test rugby.
All Blacks 52 (R Ioane 2, B Barrett, C Taylor, B Smith, D McKenzie, N Laumape, A Savea tries, B Barrett 3 con, 2 pen) France 11 (R Grosso try, M Parra 2 pen). Half-time: 8-11.