|Richie McCaw is presented with his 100th test cap by former All Black's captain Jock Hobbs [GALLO/GETTY]
The All Blacks steadied the nerves of a nation with an emphatic 37-17 win over France at Eden Park on Saturday to secure a place in the World Cup quarter-finals as Pool A winners with a game to spare.
England also took full control of Pool B with a dominating 67-3 win over Romania and are within touching distance of the quarter-finals.
Haunted by the memories of premature exits at the hands of the French in the 1999 and 2007 tournaments, New Zealanders had been jittery all week at the prospect of facing the Europeans.
But tries from Adam Thomson, Cory Jane, Sonny Bill Williams and two from fullback Israel Dagg as well as 12 points from the boot of Dan Carter allowed them to bury the ghosts of past World Cup failures for the group stage at least.
"We had to absorb a fair bit early on and I am proud the boys did that and when we got our opportunities we put points on the board"
All Blacks captain Richie McCaw
The New Zealand pack, led by Richie McCaw in his 100th test with lock Sam Whitelock also outstanding, overpowered the French in the scrum and harried them in the loose to allow their backs the perfect platform to display their skills.
"We had to absorb a fair bit early on and I am proud the boys did that and when we got our opportunities we put points on the board," said McCaw.
"In big tests that's what you have got to do, so very happy."
The French, who play Tonga in their final pool match on October 1, are still likely to finish second in the group and reach the last eight.
"We made too many mistakes," said France captain Thierry Dusautoir.
"We (conceded) too many tries to the All Blacks. They made a difference in the first half. We came back at the end of the second half.
"We need to work hard and I think this is a good lesson for us."
England back to best
Martin Johnson's men showed what they can do when holding on to the ball, running in 10 tries during their 67-3 win over Romania.
Mark Cueto scored a hat trick for England in his first World Cup appearance since the 2007 final and fellow wing Chris Ashton also crossed three times to take his tally to 14 in 16 internationals.
|Mark Cueto returned to score a hat-trick for England against Romania [GALLO/GETTY]
England never threatened to match the 134-0 win they racked up against the same opponent a decade ago, but avoided being pulled into an arm wrestle with the Romanian forwards and cut out most of the breakdown infringements that marred their wins over Argentina and Georgia.
Ben Youngs, Ben Foden, Manu Tuilagi and Tom Croft added second-half scores and Ashton completed his hat trick to wrap up England's biggest win since Martin Johnson took over as manager three years ago.
"We looked at our performances last week and we had a lot to improve on and we did that today,'' captain Lewis Moody said.
"We still have areas to work on, but the performance across the board was a lot better. That's what happens when we keep hold of the ball and do the basics right."
England now have 14 points from three matches ahead of next weekend's final pool match against Scotland in Auckland.