All Blacks showcase the skills that make them best in world
On a day that England huffed and puffed their way past Argentina, New Zealand unleashed the full range of qualities that underscore their status as world No1 in a richly entertaining fivetry victory over France in Paris.
The first-half was an absolute clinic. France were by no means awful, but every time they made a mistake, the All Blacks capitalised. Beauden Barrett, who kicked six from six, orchestrated proceedings at fly-half while Reiko Ioane and full back Damian McKenzie cut holes everywhere against a French team featuring six debutants and a rookie half-back pairing.
France, however, restored some dignity in the second half, inspired by scrum-half Antoine Dupont on his first start. Central to their comeback was a dramatic transformation at the scrum.
In the first half, New Zealand had been utterly dominant, winning three penalties in a row at one point and forcing the sin-binning of Rabah Slimani. Somehow those roles were completely reversed after half-time.
With a couple of minutes to go in front of their own posts, New Zealand finally shoved the French scrum back before Waisake Naholo rounded off the scoring with his second try.
The visitors had been 17-0 up within 22 minutes. Hooker Dane Coles picked a perfect line off Barrett’s shoulder before the fly half fired a long mis-pass to wing Naholo to score in the corner.
France restored a degree of hope as wing Teddy Thomas finished a backline move. Yet New Zealand immediately capitalised upon Slimani’s yellow card. Barrett fed Sonny Bill Williams who perfectly judged a grubber kick through to centre partner Ryan Crotty for the All Blacks’ 2000th try in international rugby. They saved the best for the last play of the half. Ioane stormed down the left wing, found McKenzie on his shoulder who gave the scoring pass to Cane.
Trailing 31-5 at half-time, nine minutes after the break, France had clawed back 13 points. Antoine Belleau kicked two penalties and attempted a crossfield kick to Yoann Huget which Williams decided to bat the ball past the dead-ball line. Ref Angus Gardner decided to sin-bin Williams, correctly, and, rather mystifyingly, award a penalty try. After that New Zealand scrambled and spoiled successfully until Naholo’s finishing touch.
Leading man: Dane Coles scores the opening try of the All Blacks’ win in Paris