All Blacks hold off fierce French
All Blacks hold off fierce FrenchSHARE
The All Blacks were forced to work hard for their 23-13 victory over a determined French team at Eden Park on Saturday.
The match echoed the World Cup Final between these two teams in 2011, with both sides right in it to the end of the match.
It was far more open, but France certainly showed their strengths and looked nothing like the team that finished last in the Six Nations.
It was the All Blacks' first Test of the year and it showed, as although they had periods of dominance they could not sustain enough pressure to run away with it.
The home side started with real intent, hurling themselves at the French defence in search of an early opening.
The visitors absorbed the pressure well and took the ball into the 22 before rookie flyhalf Camille Lopez had a go at a drop-goal, but he pushed it wide.
However, they did not have to wait long to get the scoring underway as the centres combined well to notch the opening try and stun the All Blacks.
Florian Fritz broke the line as Ma'a Nonu slipped in defence and he found a flying Wesley Fofana on his inside who had enough pace to go over for the try.
Aaron Cruden put two early shots at goal wide, adding to the tense atmosphere at Eden Park, but he slotted his third kick to get the home side on the board after 20 minutes.
New Zealand put together some promising passages of play as they looked to build some momentum, but crucial errors saw their attacking forays fizzle out as the French held on, living off turnover ball.
The pressure eventually told when a moment of magic from Ben Smith set up the All Blacks' opening try. The elusive outside back got the ball in midfield and ghosted through a gap before finding Aaron Smith who went over for the try to give his side a 10-7 lead.
A break from wing Adrien Plante gave the French the opportunity to respond immediately, and Maxime Machenaud obliged with the penalty kick to level things up at 10-10 after the All Blacks strayed offside.
However, the home side took a 17-10 lead into the half-time break when a great run from Nonu saw Sam Cane score under the poles after some good linking play from Aaron Smith.
The All Blacks made all of the running at the start of the second half, but it was the French who struck first when Lopez kicked a penalty to reduce the deficit to 17-13.
That seemed to give the visitors some confidence, and they launched a sustained attack in the All Blacks' 22, but could not capitalise as a big shove from New Zealand at a defensive scrum repelled the threat.
The All Blacks gave themselves a bit of breathing space when Cruden knocked over his second penalty, but the French were right back into it when Plante slipped into the 22 before an offload went to ground to break it down metres short.
The French carried the ball strongly as the match entered the final stages, but the All Blacks countered well with Rene Ranger laying some defenders to waste and an easy penalty from Cruden put them out of range.
Man of the match: Ben Smith looked a threat whenever he got the ball and Ma'a Nonu had a great game considering his Super Rugby form, but the man who put the All Blacks' attack together was scrumhalf Aaron Smith.
Moment of the match: The All Blacks' second try saw some great interplay between forwards and backs with Aaron Smith linking up Sam Cane after Ma'a Nonu had broken the defensive line.
Villain of the match: There was none, not even referee Stuart Barnes
For New Zealand:
Tries: Smith, Cane
Cons: Cruden 2
Pens: Cruden 3
Pens: Machenaud, Lopez
New Zealand: 15 Israel Dagg. 14 Ben Smith, 13 Conrad Smith, 12 Ma'a Nonu, 11 Julian Savea, 10 Aaron Cruden 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Kieran Read (captain) 7 Sam Cane, 6 Liam Messam, 5 Brodie Retallick, 4 Luke Romano, 3 Owen Franks, 2 Dane Coles, 1 Wyatt Crockett.
Replacements: 16 Keven Mealamu, 17 Ben Franks, 18 Ben Afeaki, 19 Jeremy Thrush, 20 Victor Vito, 21 Tawera Kerr-Barlow, 22 Beauden Barrett, 23 Rene Ranger.
France: 15 Yoann Huget, 14 Adrien Plante, 13 Florian Fritz, 12 Wesley Fofana, 11 Maxime Medard, 10 Camille Lopez, 9 Maxime Machenaud, 8 Louis Picamoles, 7 Fulgence Ouedraogo, 6 Thierry Dusautoir (captain), 5 Yoann Maestri, 4 Sebastien Vahaamahina, 3 Luc Ducalcon, 2 Dimitri Szarzewski, 1 Thomas Domingo.
Replacements: 16 Guilhem Guirado, 17 Vincent Debaty, 18 Daniel Kotze, 19 Akexandre Flanquart, 20 Yannick Nyanga, 21 Jean-Marc Doussain, 22 Frederic Michalak, 23 Maxime Mermoz.
Referee: Wayne Barnes (England)
Assistant referees: Alain Rolland (Ireland), tba (Australia)
TMO: Matt Goddard (Australia)