If you are going to beat the All Blacks, you have to score tries. Commentator Justin Marshall.
The Player of the Year is the match winner
Early in the second half with the All Blacks leading 10-6, the French were hot on attack. 15 metres from the line, they swung the ball wide toward the left wing, but floated the final pass.
With superb anticipation and blistering speed, Beauden Barrett intercepted the ball and ran the length of the field to score under the bar.
What might have been 13-10 to France became 17-6 to the All Blacks. It was the turning point in the game and allowed the visitors to eventually run out the winners 24-19.
Barrett had an excellent game scoring 14 points, tackling well, and making the first All Black try. His superb cross kick was taken by Julian Savea who unloaded to the flying Israel Dagg to score handy to the posts.
Closing the gap
In last year’s World Cup the Southern Hemisphere teams were dominant. None of the Six Nations teams made the semi finals and England couldn’t even qualify for the quarters.
That scenario has changed markedly in 2016. Mid-year England beat Australia down under 3-0 and Ireland took a test off South Africa. The Irish beat the All Blacks in Chicago three weeks ago and England easily beat South Africa last weekend.
~ Wales beat South Africa
~ Ireland beat Australia
~ England beat Argentina.
Furthermore, France, after its humiliating thrashing by the All Blacks in last year’s World Cup quarter final, ran the number one team close.
The French show traditional flair
The French were keen to play the game at pace and produced the best attacking performance of any team to face the All Blacks in 2016. They had the lion’s share of possession and tested the New Zealand defence with quick passing, tricky running and excellent support play.
This was very like some of the great French teams of the past who loved to run and pass the ball at speed. They also defended impressively.
The All Blacks defence was found wanting on a number of occasions and it was often only a superb final tackle which denied the French a try.
Unfortunately for the French, they could only manage one try, which was scored as a result of excellent shove in a scrum 5 metres out and a quick tap from the resulting penalty.
Tactically, in the final quarter, the French made the same mistake as the Irish last week. They took a 3 point penalty instead of going for a lineout drive close to the line and the opportunity to score a converted try.
The All Blacks do enough
The backline was minus Ben Smith (injury), Malakai Fekitoa (suspension) and lost Ryan Crotty and Israel Dagg during the match. Smith in particular was missed, nevertheless with Barrett controlling the flow, there were some good bursts and determined running in support of the ball carrier.
However, on the day the French had the better of the back play overall.
The All Black forwards shaded their opposites. There were a number of lineout steals, Mat Todd gained useful turnovers and there were some bullocking runs from Brodie Retallick, Charlie Faumuina and Ardie Savea.
The French tired towards the end, and the All Blacks spent the final few minutes camped in the home team’s 22.
Still number one
Thirteen victories from fourteen matches is an excellent year’s work. The All Blacks can now take a well-earned rest knowing they are still on top of the pile.
However, they will be well aware that the recent northern tour has shown that at least three of the Six Nations teams are closing fast.