By Greg Ward
BBC News, New Zealand
The All Blacks' dramatic early exit from the Rugby World Cup has sent shockwaves through rugby-obsessed New Zealand.
The French team readily accepted the All Blacks' challenge
There were tears of disbelief among stunned Kiwi supporters as they watched France come from behind to beat the tournament hot favourites 20-18 in Cardiff.
Despite past failures, there was widespread confidence in New Zealand that the current All Black squad could regain the world title.
But the quarter-final elimination was the All Black's worst-ever World Cup performance.
For New Zealand's fanatical fans and news media, the nightmare result is regarded as a national disaster.
Many fans were left bewildered and depressed by the unexpected defeat.
Pride and confidence soon gave way to gloom and despondency.
Within minutes of the final whistle, New Zealand supporters were venting their disappointment and frustration through telephone texts and radio talkback.
Many Kiwis are blaming referee Wayne Barnes for the loss
Parents described children as inconsolable. Others talked of family or workmates reduced to tears.
Not surprisingly, the issue has dominated news bulletins and fallout is expected to continue for months.
One target of fierce criticism is English referee Wayne Barnes. Disgruntled All Black fans are upset the winning French try came from an unpunished forward pass.
But others say poor leadership and poor tactics contributed to the All Black disaster.
In an online poll by New Zealand's TV3 network, 55% of respondents blamed referee Barnes for the loss; 19% blamed the All Blacks and 7% blamed coach Graham Henry, who has already lost his job after the defeat.
'Need to grow up'
Paddy O'Brien, the New Zealander who heads the International Rugby Board referee's panel, told TV3 that the loss could not be blamed on refereeing.
"We've got to remember that France played very, very well, and as a country I think we have got to grow up."
HEADLINES FROM DOWN UNDER
"Ref faces backlash as 'pampered ABs', not Henry, take the blame" - NZ Herald
"Four more years of void" - The Dominion Post
"All Blacks' $50m failure" - Otago Times
"At least we didn't choke" - Brisbane's Courier-Mail
New Zealand radio commentator Murray Deaker was among those who blasted the All Blacks, claiming they lacked intelligence under pressure.
"Sadly, we are a dumb rugby nation," he said. "We don't play the big matches well. On the big occasions we choke."
Rugby is New Zealand's national sport. But winning the World Cup for the first time in 20 years had become a national obsession.
Thousands of All Blacks fans gathered to watch the match at bars and clubs around the country. Few were expecting anything less than a comfortable victory.
As French fans smiled, New Zealand fans could only hide their faces
At most venues, there was stunned silence as the game and the dream slipped away.
In downtown Auckland, Cock & Bull Tavern duty manager Ric Togapuna watched in disbelief.
"The referee cost us the game," he said. "Heaps of French errors went unpunished."
Former All Black Stu Wilson believes the team wasted too many opportunities.
He told the New Zealand Herald the players' performance would face intense scrutiny at home.
"The country is in mourning. They've now got to be prepared for the tsunami wave of criticism from the fans and the media."