New Zealand clinched their three-Test series against France when they secured a 26-13 victory at Westpac Stadium in Wellington on Saturday.
The All Blacks have now taken an unassailable 2-0 lead in the series with the final match to take place next weekend in Dunedin.
Although New Zealand held the upper-hand for large periods, the complexion of the match changed in the 12th minute when France full-back Benjamin Fall received a red card for upending Beauden Barrett in an aerial challenge.
At the time France were leading 3-0 but Fall’s departure allowed the world champions to take control of proceedings and in the end they outscored les Bleus by four tries to one.
Like last week’s Test in Auckland, France were fastest out of the blocks and the visitors thought they had opened the scoring in the sixth minute when Geoffrey Doumayrou crossed the whitewash – after a superb line break from Kélian Galletier in the build-up – but his effort was disallowed after television replays revealed that he lost control of the ball after Beauden Barrett and Ryan Crotty combined to bring him to ground.
France put that setback behind them and opened the scoring in the 11th minute courtesy of a Morgan Parra penalty after Sam Cane was blown up for illegal play at a maul deep inside his 22.
Shortly afterwards, Fall received his marching orders for his foul on Barrett, who went off the field for a Head Injury Assessment which he failed and he was replaced by Damian McKenzie.
It did not take long for the All Blacks to make their numerical advantage count as one minute later, Joe Moody ran a superb line before gathering a pass from Aaron Smith, just outside France’s 22, before racing away to score a deserved try.
The All Blacks continued to dominate as the half progressed and midway through the half Ben Smith gathered a wayward pass inside France’s 22 and set off on a mazy run – in which he beat three defenders with deft footwork – before dotting down under the posts.
McKenzie converted both tries to give the home side a 14-3 lead before Parra narrowed the gap with his second penalty on the half-hour mark.
With an extra man advantage, the home side became more daring on attack as they ran the ball from all areas of the field.
That approach yielded reward on the stroke of half-time when Rieko Ioane launched an attack from midway between his 22 and the halfway line. Ioane beat a couple of defenders and was soon inside les Bleus‘ half where he offloaded to Anton Lienert-Brown, who drew in the final defender before throwing an inside pass to Jordie Barrett, who dotted down and McKenzie added the extras to give New Zealand a 21-6 lead at the interval.
The second-half was a more subdued affair although France deserve plenty of credit for being more competitive despite playing with 14 men.
The All Blacks battled to build momentum during this period and had to wait until the 57th minute before they scored points again when Jordie Barrett crossed for his second try. This, after Crotty and McKenzie laid the groundwork with superb runs before the latter offloaded to Barrett, who rounded off despite the attentions of a couple of defenders.
If the truth be told, this was not business as usual from the All Blacks as their second-half performance was littered with several unforced errors and in the 63rd minute they too were reduced to 14 men when TJ Perenara was yellow carded for a cynical defensive foul inside his half.
Five minutes later, Pierre Bourgarit set off on a barnstorming run before dotting down but like Doumayrou’s effort earlier on, his try was also disallowed by the TMO for a double movement after a desperate tackle from Ben Smith close to the whitewash.
Despite that setback, France finished stronger and just before full-time Cedate Gomes Sa rounded off a flowing move, and Jules Plisson succeeded with the conversion which added some respectability to the final score.
For New Zealand:
Tries: Moody, B Smith, J Barrett 2
Cons: McKenzie 3
Yellow Card: Perenara
Try: Gomes Sa
Pens: Parra 2
Red Card: Fall
New Zealand: 15 Jordie Barrett, 14 Ben Smith, 13 Anton Lienert-Brown, 12 Ryan Crotty, 11 Rieko Ioane, 10 Beauden Barrett, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Luke Whitelock, 7 Sam Cane, 6 Liam Squire, 5 Scott Barrett, 4 Sam Whitelock (c), 3 Owen Franks, 2 Codie Taylor, 1 Joe Moody
Replacements: 16 Nathan Harris, 17 Karl Tu’inukuafe, 18 Ofa Tuungafasi, 19 Vaea Fifita, 20 Ardie Savea, 21 TJ Perenara, 22 Damian McKenzie, 23 Ngani Laumape
France: 15 Benjamin Fall, 14 Teddy Thomas, 13 Mathieu Bastareaud (c), 12 Geoffrey Doumayrou, 11 Gael Fickou, 10 Anthony Belleau, 9 Morgan Parra, 8 Kelian Gourdon, 7 Kélian Galletier, 6 Mathieu Babillot, 5 Yoann Maestri, 4 Bernard le Roux, 3 Uini Atonio, 2 Camille Chat, 1 Dany Priso
Replacements: 16 Pierre Bourgarit, 17 Cyril Baille, 18 Cedate Gomes Sa, 19 Paul Gabrillagues, 20 Alexandre Lapandry, 21 Baptiste Serin, 22 Jules Plisson, 23 Maxime Médard
Referee: Angus Gardner (Australia)
Assistant referees: John Lacey (Ireland), Luke Pearce (England)
Television match official: George Ayoub (Australia)