A 24-19 victory at Stade de France on Saturday night gave New Zealand their 10th consecutive win over France.
The result means the All Blacks finish 2016 with just one defeat, while France failed to make amends for their narrow loss to Australia last week despite playing very well against the World Champions.
Indeed, the French will be asking themselves how they lost this game because they dominated all the key stats. The scoreboard doesn’t reflect just how good their performance was and they will be disappointed to come away with a defeat after dominating most of the game.
New Zealand once again showed their class when it mattered most, their ability to absorb pressure and punish opposition mistakes setting them apart from the rest. They were nowhere near their best and yet celebrated they 10th win in a row over France.
One look at the stats and France will be kicking themselves that they didn’t come closer to win this game. They had the upper hand at scrum time, dominated territory and possession throughout the game but especially in the first half, made 10 clean line breaks, executed 21 offloads and missed only four tackles.
The All Blacks missed 20 and conceded a whopping 13 penalties, and yet they never looked in danger of losing this game.
France lost this game at the breakdown, where they conceded 19 turnovers compared to five from the Kiwis and the hosts also lost four lineouts. In the end, their failure to convert their domination into points when in the opposition 22 cost them dearly, with the final pass too often not going to hand.
Watching France it was like they took a leaf out of Ireland’s book in the way they started the game. They were clearly up for the challenge. They generated quick front foot ball early on and tested the New Zealand defence, especially in the first half where they put the defence under immense pressure with their hard running.
But it was the All Blacks who scored first when Beauden Barrett, in another outstanding performance, gave a clever cross kick which Julian Savea collected before an inside pass to Israel Dagg saw the full-back have enough pace to cross the whitewash.
France continued to probe the Kiwi defence and their offloading saw them make several visits to the opposition 22. However, they struggled to finish off promising field positions time and again and some desperate New Zealand defending along with that elusive final pass saw the hosts cough possession too many times.
Maxime Machenaud kept France in the game with two penalties which meant they only trailed 10-6 when the half-time whistle went.
The hosts would have been kicking themselves for nit making more use of their domination, especially since the All Blacks are known as a second-half team.
That was indeed the case as the Kiwis grew into the game as the second half progressed. For the umpteenth time France found themselves in New Zealand’s 22 and they were on the attack out wide when Barrett intercepted a pass and ran 90 metres against the run of play to extend his team’s lead to 17-6.
From there the All Blacks slowly started to take control of the game and when they found themselves in France’s 22 they did what the hosts had struggled to do all game – score.
From a ruck in the 22 Kieran Read took the ball up and offloaded the ball to Charlie Faumuina who crashed over from close range to put the nail in France’s coffin.
To their credit the hosts never gave up and once again made it to the brink of New Zealand’s tryline, but the final pass wasn’t there. It told the story of their night.
However, they finally managed to score thanks to some quick thinking from Baptiste Serin. France were awarded a scrum 5m out and when they won the penalty Serin took a quick tap and gave a brilliant no-look inside pass to Louis Picamoles who went over for the five-pointer.
Serin slotted the conversion which gave France renewed hope of getting a result. A penalty with three minutes to play was nailed by Serin which made it a five-point game, but France were stuck in their own half for the final few minutes which resulted in another disappointing loss for Les Blues.
Pens: Machenaud 2, Serin
For New Zealand:
Tries: Dagg, Barrett, Faumuina
Cons: Barrett 3
France: 15 Brice Dulin, 14 Noa Nakaitaci, 13 Rémi Lamerat, 12 Wesley Fofana, 11 Virimi Vakatawa, 10 Camille Lopez, 9 Maxime Machenaud, 8 Louis Picamoles, 7 Kevin Gourdon, 6 Charles Ollivon, 5 Yoann Maestri, 4 Sébastian Vahaamahina, 3 Uini Atonio, 2 Guilhem Guirado (c), 1 Xavier Chiocci
Replacements: 16 Camille Chat, 17 Cyril Baille, 18 Rabah Slimani, 19 Julien Le Devedec, 20 Damien Chouly, 21 Baptiste Serin, 22 Jean-Marc Doussain, 23 Gaël Fickou
New Zealand: 15 Israel Dagg, 14 Waisake Naholo, 13 Anton Lienert-Brown, 12 Ryan Crotty, 11 Julian Savea, 10 Beauden Barrett, 9 TJ Perenara, 8 Kieran Read (c), 7 Matt Todd, 6 Jerome Kaino, 5 Samuel Whitelock, 4 Brodie Retallick, 3 Owen Franks, 2 Dane Coles, 1 Joe Moody
Replacements: 16 Codie Taylor, 17 Wyatt Crockett, 18 Charlie Faumuina, 19 Scott Barrett, 20 Ardie Savea, 21 Aaron Smith, 22 Aaron Cruden, 23 Rieko Ioane
Referee: Wayne Barnes (England)
Assistant Referees: Federico Anselmi (Argentina), Dudley Phillips (Ireland)
TMO: Rowan Kitt (England)