The All Blacks beat France 38-18 in wet conditions in Paris on Saturday after leading 31-5 at the break, writes SIMON BORCHARDT.
A dominant first-half display from the world champions saw them bounce back from their Bledisloe Cup loss to the Wallabies.
The All Blacks scored four tries in that 40-minute period and looked set for a big win. But France came out firing in the second half, scoring 13 unanswered points in 12 minutes. They could have added a few more had they taken a couple of subsequent chances, but the All Blacks were ultimately able to limit the damage and come away with the win.
This really was a game of two halves.
France won an early scrum penalty, but the All Blacks soon gained the ascendancy and were rewarded when Dane Coles scored the first try after a sustained attack. Beauden Barrett slotted the conversion and added a penalty to give the visitors a 10-0 lead.
The All Blacks struck again in the 22nd minute when Rieko Ioane received the ball from a scrum at first receiver. While the winger was stopped just short of the line, the ball went wide to Waisake Naholo, who dotted down in the right-hand corner. Barrett slotted the touchline conversion.
France hit back soon after, with quick hands putting right wing Teddy Thomas over in the corner. But New Zealand’s scrum dominance paid off when Rabah Slimani was yellow-carded after yet another collapse, and a try followed when Ryan Crotty chased down Sonny Bill Williams’ grubber kick through the defence.
The All Blacks struck again just before the break. Ioane and Damian McKenzie combined to put Sam Cane over, and Barrett again nailed the conversion to make it 31-5.
France made a strong start to the second half, yet opted to take three points via Anthony Belleau’s boot rather than kick for the corner and push for a try.
The All Blacks then conceded a penalty try when Williams intentionally punched the ball over the deadball line after a French cross-kick and received a yellow card.
Belleau kicked another penalty to reduce the gap to 13 points and it was game on.
A crucial moment in the match came when Thomas went over in the right-hand corner in the 56th minute, only for TV replays to show he had put a foot in touch while diving for the line. The blue onslaught continued, though, until the All Blacks won a pressure-relieving penalty.
France then lost their momentum somewhat. The All Blacks were able to see out the rest of the match without conceding again and had the final say when Naholo grabbed his second in the last minute.
France – Try: Penalty try, Teddy Thomas. Penalties: Anthony Belleau (2).
All Blacks – Tries: Dane Coles, Waisake Naholo (2), Ryan Crotty, Sam Cane. Conversions: Beauden Barrett (5). Penalty: Barrett.
France – 15 Nans Ducuing, 14 Teddy Thomas, 13 Geoffrey Doumayrou, 12 Mathieu Bastareaud, 11 Yoann Huget, 10 Anthony Belleau, 9 Antoine Dupont, 8 Louis Picamoles, 7 Kevin Gourdon, 6 Judicael Cancoriet, 5 Paul Gabrillagues, 4 Sebastien Vahaamahina, 3 Rabah Slimani, 2 Guilhem Guirado (c), 1 Jefferson Poirot.
Subs: 16 Clement Maynadier, 17 Raphael Chaume, 18 Daniel Kotze, 19 Paul Jedrasiak, 20 Anthony Jelonch, 21 Baptiste Serin, 22 Francois Trinh-Duc, 23 Damian Penaud.
All Blacks – 15 Damian McKenzie, 14 Waisake Naholo, 13 Ryan Crotty, 12 Sonny Bill Williams, 11 Rieko Ioane, 10 Beauden Barrett, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Kieran Read (c), 7 Sam Cane, 6 Vaea Fifita, 5 Sam Whitelock, 4 Luke Romano, 3 Nepo Laulala, 2 Dane Coles, 1 Kane Hames.
Subs: 16 Codie Taylor, 17 Wyatt Crockett, 18 Ofa Tu’ungafasi, 19 Scott Barrett, 20 Matt Todd, 21 TJ Perenara, 22 Lima Sopoaga, 23 Anton Lienert-Brown.
Photo: Bryn Lennon/Getty Images