All Blacks complete clean sweep of France
June 22, 2013
Try time for New Zealand's Ben Smith
© Getty Images
New Zealand completed a 3-0 series sweep against France, but they have plenty to think about after leaving it late to secure a patchy 24-9 win at Yarrow Stadium in New Plymouth on Saturday.
The Rugby World Cup 2011winners threatened to run away with the match early but uncharacteristic errors stunted their momentum while boosting the confidence of their opponents, who played like a team that had had a weight taken of its shoulders after losing the Dave Gallaher Trophy series last week. Ben Smith scored a try late in the first half, but the second half became a duel between the goal-kickers before a last-minute try to hometown hero Beauden Barrett made the result more convincing than the performance deserved.
Dan Carter returned from a cracked bone in his right hand to score 14 points with the boot, but he missed more kicks than expected and the lead changed four times as poor discipline by the All Blacks allowed France to stay in touch through the boot of halfback Jean-Marc Doussain.
Steve Hansen is content with the progress of the All Blacks%]
New Zealand coach Steve Hansen is now left to ponder which troops will defend the Rugby Championship in two months' time as structures introduced this year were effective when executed well but for the most part needed more work to perfect. Firmly in his mind will be the dilemma of Rene Ranger, whom he can select for a possible seven Tests before the Blues dynamo departs for French Top 14 club Montpellier in September. The Blues wing proved his high-paced, high-impact style can be applied with good effect from the opening whistle at Test level after two cameos from the bench. The hotly contested blindside flanker position is another area that requires attention. Seeking an enforcer who can dominate the contact area, Victor Vito ticked a few boxes but was guilty of basic areas. Carter's 95 caps worth of experience should grant him a first look at fly-half, but he was patchy in his first international appearance of the year and there remains a strong case for Aaron Cruden to continue his work from the opening two Tests.
Carter's confidence certainly wasn't helped when he had a clearing kick charged down inside his own 22 just seconds after kick-off. France playmaker Remi Tales launched an ambitious chip over the defence from the ensuing breakdown, but the chasing players were caught offside. The home side responded with its own attacking raid, and they went close before Conrad Smith's hands failed him.
New Zealand's Ma'a Nonu snags France's Mathieu Bastareaud © Getty Images
France opened the scoring when Florian Fritz dropped a goal after South African-born Antonie Claassen had collected a towering midfield bomb, before a scintillating sequence of play that saw the visitors again sniffing at the All Blacks goal line after wing Marc Andreu had split the defence and offloaded to his support. But New Zealand relieved pressure by stealing possession at the breakdown then launching a swooping counter-attack through Ben Smith. The ball was knocked on but Carter slotted his first penalty goal of the night when the All Blacks next received possession to level the score at 3-3 after 16 minutes.
France's back three of Brice Dulin, Yoann Huget and Andreu showed improved tactical positioning after being caught off guard last week, they applied pressure with Doussain by kicking to space but poor defence meant they were not able to build on it. Doussain, meanwhile, struggled to find his kicking rhythm, and a second missed penalty denied France a six-point lead that would have given them the momentum heading into half-time. But Doussain nailed his third attempt late in the half to cut the deficit to two points after Smith had scored in the right corner.
Hansen wasted no time before making summoning Tawera Kerr-Barlow and Tony Woodcock to enter the fray in the first half, and that coincided with an apparent lift in the tempo from the All Blacks. Another penalty to Doussain gave the visitors a brief 9-8 lead before Carter landed three of his own to push the All Blacks to a 17-9.
Steven Luatua, Charles Piutau and Matt Todd were introduced to make their Test debut followed by Barrett, who had his hometown crowd of more than 24,000 fans in raptures when he crossed the whitewash on the full-time siren.
The scoreline may have flattered New Zealand (video available only in Australia)