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France push All Blacks close

Once again New Zealand were made to work very hard to get the better of France at Eden Park, winning 23-13 in an entertaining clash on Saturday.

A spluttering All Black side continued their lengthy winning record at Eden Park but only just against a tenacious visiting French team.

The 23-13 margin offered scant evidence of the anxiety which enveloped the All Blacks. For large parts of the match they were harassed and disrupted by a rollicking French display.

The dream of repeating the wondrous win from 1994, the last time any side beat the All Blacks on this ground, was alive for France throughout the match.

Rugged No 8 Louis Picamoles will have nightmares about dropping a tough pass late in the game when success would have given him an uninterrupted saunter to the tryline.

He did superbly just to be in support after a Adrien Plante break and the pass was around his knees. But it was a chance which would have eaten into the All Blacks resolve.

The automatic conversion would have left the score deadlocked at 20-all with 18 minutes left.

That chance gone, the questions were about resolve for both teams.

The All Blacks were struggling with their cohesion, France were dealing with the mental scars from a poor Six Nations and a disrupted touring squad.

As the clock wound down, France were penalized and Aaron Cruden goaled a simple penalty to clinch the awkward victory.

France began with far more purpose and instinct than the All Blacks.

They held a lead, relinquished it, drew level then fell behind again in an intriguing opening to the three test series.

The All Blacks led 17-10 at the break with a two tries to one advantage as they found some defensive holes in the final stages of the spell.

Wing Ben Smith carved through to set up the first for his Highlanders teammate Aaron Smith before Sam Cane ploughed over after smart interplay from Ma’a Nonu and Aaron Smith again.

The opening try came from France though when Florian Fritz got through a midfield mixup easily to offload to the impressive Wesley Fofana.

That unexpected start spurred France and stunned the 45561 crowd who could not get into any patriotic voice until Cruden goaled his third penalty attempt after 20 minutes.
Lack of cohesion and uncertainty marred large chunks of the All Blacks play and intentions.

They spilled passes and lost the ball in the breakdowns where the French contested with a regular ferocity to blunt the All Black progress.

The All Blacks will be grateful they ground out a victory. They were bent out of shape and fractured for much of the test while France will rue another missed chance to get one over the famous rivals.

The scorers:

For New Zealand:
Tries: A. Smith, Cane
Cons: Cruden 2
Pens: Cruden 3

For France:
Try: Fofana
Con: Machenaud
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 (c), 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 (c), 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.

Venue: Eden Park, Aukland
Referee: Wayne Barnes (England)


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