All Blacks Claim Series But Without Controversy
Losing shape, conceding penalties, missing more tackles than was comfortable and failing to hold ball all summed up a frustrating All Blacks 26-13 win to claim the Steinlager Series while retaining the Dave Gallaher Trophy over France in Wellington on Saturday.
The game was dominated by the sending off of French fullback Benjamin Fall after 13 minutes and the subsequent failure to take advantage will have the Al Blacks facing a tough week in preparation for the third Test in Dunedin.
It was the second consecutive Test in Wellington where a player had been ordered off, Sonny Bill Williams having suffered the same fate against the British & Irish Lions last year.
But rather than sink the French, it lifted their resolve and while tryless until injury time when replacement prop Gomes Sa was on the end of a sweeping movement, they won plenty of admiration for their effort in refusing to bow down.
Fall was sent off for his dangerous challenge on All Blacks first five-eighths Beauden Barrett when he was contesting a high ball. Fall didn’t leave the ground while Barrett was knocked and fell on his head.
After checking the video evidence referee Angus Gardiner dismissed the Frenchman. The incident resulted in Barrett failing an HIA with Damian McKenzie replacing him.
From the penalty resulting from the incident the All Blacks kicked for a lineout and in the resulting play they moved the ball around and from a midfield ruck, halfback Aaron Smith found prop Joe Moody running towards him on a sharp angle.
Soon after a long range downfield kick by fullback Jordie Barrett landed close to the corner flag and the French botched a long throw which was taken by New Zealand. McKenzie ran to the line and while the All Blacks’ clearance was untidy, wing Ben Smith was on hand to seize control, cut back against the tide and race through unopposed to score.
France were competitive by utilising their changed loose forward combination. Openside flanker Kelian Galletier, whose fine midfield break should have created a try for second five-eighths Geoffrey Doumayrou but he lost the ball on the line, blindside flanker Mathieu Babbilot and No.8 Kevin Gourdon got among the All Blacks forwards and upset their flow. Big tighthead prop Uini Atonio was strong on the charge with the ball in hand.
First five-eighths Anthony Belleau took early gaps but was more restrained after the loss of Fall. The French cause was not helped by more lineout woes in the first half.
Near the end of the half prop Owen Franks had to be replaced when struggling with an injury by Ofa Tuungafasi.
There were some communication breakdowns among the All Blacks’ backs but just before the halftime break they demonstrated the danger for the French. Barrett fielded a Parra clearing kick just out from the All Blacks 22m area. His long infield pass found McKenzie.
He linked with wing Rieko Ioane, who carred the ball left, attracting two defenders but still able to pass inside. Centre Anton Lienert-Brown took play back infield with a good break and then found Barrett in support inside and he scored beneath the posts.
Multiple changes were made to the All Blacks early in the second half with a rare chance for substitutes to get game time in a competitive situation and while it took 16 minutes to gel with the French applying pressure in the All Blacks’ quarter, the transformation eventually emerged, albeit briefly.
The All Blacks mounted a rolling lineout maul which produced ball to Crotty at stand-off to feed McKenzie on the double round. He raced into space and found halfback TJ Perenara in support. He was dragged down just short but the ruck ball saw McKenzie back in the action to weight a perfect pass to Barrett for his second try.
More woes for New Zealand saw replacement halfback TJ Perenara sin-binned for playing the ball on the wrong side of a tackle in the All Blacks’ 22m area.
Another French try scoring chance was lost when replacement hooker Pierre Bourgarit picked the ball off the back of an All Blacks’ lineout movement and charged through to the line. He was tackled by Ben Smith and ruled to have got up on his knees to have propelled himself forward ruling the try out.
However, France got their reward when Sa capitalised on some fine work by Gourdon to give the tourists another boost before they face each other again in Dunedin next week.
Scorers: New Zealand 26 (Joe Moody, Ben Smith, Jordie Barrett 2 tries; Damian McKenzie 3 con) France 13 (Gomes Sa try; Morgan Parra 2 pen; Jules Plisson con). HT: 21-6