A jaded-looking All Blacks have held off a brave French XV to secure a 24-19 win in Paris.
Penalised from the kick-off, the All Blacks were forced to defend early on and emerged unscathed thanks to two Matt Todd steals and a relieving penalty. From the resulting lineout a Beauden Barrett kick-pass found Julian Savea on the left wing, who fed Israel Dagg running an inside line for the opening try. Barrett converted for 7-0 after seven minutes.
A Virimi Vakatawa break had France hot on attack again, but Camille Lopez was bundled out in the corner and the All Blacks were able to clear from the lineout. Charles Ollivon then made good ground up the middle but another turnover, this time from Kieran Read, killed their momentum. A fifth French line break ended with a Kevin Gourdon knock-on. Referee Wayne Barnes found France at fault when the scrum collapsed, allowing the All Blacks to again exit their 22.
France conceded a breakdown penalty in front and 35 metres out, Barrett converting for 10-0 after 17 minutes. France spent the next several minutes on attack but each time things looked promising an error was made. A 40 metre Maxime Machenaud penalty after 25 minutes got them on the board at 3-10.
A sweeping French backline move again came undone at the end, Vakarawa unable to find Wesley Fofana who would surely have scored even with Anton Lienert-Brown being (perhaps prematurely) all over him. Machenaud kicked a second penalty just before the clock rolled past 40 minutes, the intervening 15 minutes having featured plenty of endeavour from both teams that neither were able to convert into points.
Half Time: New Zealand 10-6 France
Another sweeping attack from the French looked certain to result in a try and it did … to Beauden Barrett after he intercepted a Machenaud ruck clearance and ran 90 metres. The conversion made it 17-6 with 43 minutes gone. Machenaud was subbed off shortly after.
A ghosting run from Brice Dulin gave France good field position which yielded a penalty that replacement halfback Baptiste Serin had no problems in converting for 17-9 with 30 minutes remaining. A Lienert-Brown infringement from the kickoff allowed France back onto attack but they again turned the ball over and were then penalised to once again let New Zealand off the hook.
A Barrett kick-pass found Waisake Naholo on the right wing and set up a series of rucks inside the French 22. Awarded a penalty 15 metres out the All Blacks took the lineout option, replacement prop Charlie Faumuina wrapping around to score under the posts, 24-9 after the conversion.
The French went desperately close to scoring almost immediately but again were denied by good defence and poor handling. A monster scrum, however, won them a penalty that Serin took quickly and flipped a backwards pass to Louis Picamoles to score adjacent to the posts. Serin converted for 24-16 with 20 to go.
A botched French lineout allowed replacement 5/8 Aaron Cruden to send a kick-pass in Naholo’s direction that the French defender knocked on. A subsequent breakdown penalty saw New Zealand turn down a gift three points in favour of a scrum. A try looked on but France earned a relieving penalty at the breakdown to survive.
Back on attack, France were awarded a rather harsh penalty when replacement halfback Aaron Smith collided with his own player while trying to retrieve a fumble. Barnes ruled obstruction and Serin was again on target for 24-19 going into the last five minutes.
There was no fairytale ending for France, however, the All Blacks drilling the restart into the corner and, after Serin made the strange decision to gift them a lineout on the 22, running the clock down with a series of carries before Aaron Smith hoofed it into the stands.
I said in the preview that “It’s going to take time for France to cast off the four years of stodge that was Philippe Saint-Andre’s coaching tenure: the intent is there but the execution isn’t quite”. This proved to be the case, France having the better of possession and territory but unable to convert that advantage into points. The All Blacks, though, took every opportunity (bar one) presented and while never anywhere near their best came away with the points and ultimately the win.
THE GAME CHANGER
Barrett’s intercept try. France looked certain to score and take at least a one point lead but instead found themselves trailing by eight. To their credit there was no dropping off in their commitment but it was the decisive score of the match.
MAN OF THE MATCH
Beauden Barrett. Set up the Dagg try with a deft kick-pass, scored the decisive try of the match and generally “ran the cutter” well, if not as well as we’ve become used to.
Try: L. Picamoles
Conversion: B. Serin
Penalties: M. Machenaud (2); B. Serin 2
Tries: I. Dagg, B. Barrett, C. Faumuina
Conversions: B. Barrett (3)
Penalty: B. Barrett
Full match stats at New Zealand Herald