All Blacks edge out gutsy France
June 8, 2013
New Zealand's Ben Smith breaches the France defence at Eden Park
© Getty Images
New Zealand drew first blood in their three-Test Gallaher Cup series against France, but they were made to fight for their 23-13 victory at Eden Park in Auckland on Saturday night. The home side outscored the tourists two tries to one, but it took an Aaron Cruden penalty seven minutes from time to seal the win that extended the All Blacks' 19-year unbeaten record at Eden Park to 31 matches.
Match Analysis by ESPNscrum's Graham Jenkins
France, however, showed enough to suggest the rest of the series, in Christchurch next Saturday and New Plymouth the week after, will be keenly contested. They had a great chance to level the scores midway through the second half, and put real pressure on the All Blacks, but Louis Picamoles, who was one of the Tricolores' best performers, couldn't hold on to a low pass from centre Florian Fritz just out from the posts.
France, in their first match at the ground where they lost the Rugby World Cup 2011 final, struck first in the 10th minute. Utilising the experience of two of their key players, Picamoles created a turnover, and the ball found Thierry Dusautoir in the backline in broken play; the captain fed Fritz, who found space out wide on a curving run then linked with his midfield partner, Wesley Fofana, to take an inside pass and touch down for a converted try.
Cruden had a couple of opportunities to get the home side on the board with penalty attempts, but he found the target only with his third attempt. In a contest with plenty of intensity and expansive play, the All Blacks swung the match their way with two tries in five minutes late in the opening half.
Winger Ben Smith continued his outstanding form this season with a scything run that supporting half-back Aaron Smith finished off by dotting down.
This time, second five Ma'a Nonu, who had been struggling for form this season, pierced the defensive line and Aaron Smith carried on to send flanker Sam Cane over. Cruden's conversion made it 17-10 at half-time.
Camille Lopez landed a penalty to narrow the scores six minutes into the second half and the visitors then had a chance to score with a succession of pick and goes at the New Zealand line - but the defence held.
Cruden landed a 59th-minute penalty to extend the lead to seven points before the French wasted another opportunity.
Plante broke the defence and fed to Fritz inside but a certain try was lost when Picamoles dropped the ball three metres out from the unprotected All Blacks' line. Cruden finished the scoring with his third penalty with eight minutes remaining.
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