The All Blacks beat a 14-man France 26-13 in Wellington on Saturday to clinch the series with a game to spare. JON CARDINELLI reports.
The game was effectively over as a contest after Benjamin Fall received a red card in the 12th minute. The France fullback did not get up when challenging for a high ball, and only succeeded in knocking Beauden Barrett out of the air.
The All Blacks flyhalf fell awkwardly and landed on his back and head. After reviewing the incident, the officials felt that they had no choice but to eject Fall. Meanwhile, Barrett failed his HIA and did not return to the field of play.
The decision was the correct one according to the law. That said, there’s bound to be some debate in the aftermath as that decision compromised the contest and robbed spectators around the world of what could have been an entertaining and close-fought game.
France were well on top prior to that incident. The visitors found some holes in the All Blacks defence, and Geoffrey Doumayrou came within centimetres of scoring a try. France would have been encouraged by that early effort.
Conversely, the ejection of Fall served as a blow to the visitors’ spirits. France’s scrum creaked thereafter, and their defence failed to stand up to scrutiny. The All Blacks scored 14 points almost immediately after Fall’s departure.
Jordie Barrett scored under the posts on the stroke of half-time. The All Blacks went to the break with a commanding 21-6 lead.
France showed some fight in the early stages of the second stanza. The All Blacks eventually made the breakthrough in the 57th minute, though, with Barrett crossing the line for his second try.
Replacement scrumhalf TJ Perenara was shown a yellow card in the 63rd minute following a series of infringements by the hosts. Reserve hooker Pierre Bourgarit appeared to have scored for France in the 69th minute before the officials ruled a double movement.
The All Blacks didn’t produce a particularly convincing defensive performance. Replacement prop Cedate Gomes Sa scored right on full-time to provide the gutsy visitors with some consolation.
If not for that red card, France may have won the game and levelled the series. As it stands, New Zealand have taken an unassailable 2-0 lead in the rubber. The final game will take place in Dunedin next Saturday.
All Blacks – Tries: Joe Moody, Ben Smith, Jordie Barrett (2). Conversions: Damian McKenzie (3).
France – Try: Cedate Gomes Sa. Conversion: Jules Plisson. Penalties: Morgan Parra (2).
All Blacks – 15 Jordie Barrett, 14 Ben Smith, 13 Anton Lienert-Brown, 12 Ryan Crotty, 11 Rieko Ioane, 10 Beauden Barrett, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Luke Whitelock, 7 Sam Cane, 6 Liam Squire, 5 Scott Barrett, 4 Sam Whitelock (c), 3 Owen Franks, 2 Codie Taylor, 1 Joe Moody.
Subs: 16 Nathan Harris, 17 Karl Tu’inukuafe, 18 Ofa Tu’ungafasi, 19 Vaea Fifita, 20 Ardie Savea, 21 TJ Perenara, 22 Damian McKenzie, 23 Ngani Laumape.
France – 15 Benjamin Fall, 14 Teddy Thomas, 13 Mathieu Bastareaud (c), 12 Geoffrey Doumayrou, 11 Gael Fickou, 10 Anthony Belleau, 9 Morgan Parra, 8 Kelian Gourdon, 7 Kélian Galletier, 6 Mathieu Babillot, 5 Yoann Maestri, 4 Bernard le Roux, 3 Uini Atonio, 2 Camille Chat, 1 Dany Priso.
Subs: 16 Pierre Bourgarit, 17 Cyril Baille, 18 Cedate Gomes Sa, 19 Paul Gabrillagues, 20 Alexandre Lapandry, 21 Baptiste Serin, 22 Jules Plisson, 23 Maxime Médard.
Photo: Anthony Au-Yeung/AFP