The All Blacks have beaten the French at Eden Park 52-11 to take a 1-0 lead in the three-match series in a game that really was sadly too strongly impacted by a few key refereeing decisions.
Ahead of the game there was lots of talk about how the French would be able to compete with so many injuries to key players but they really stood up in the first half of the match.
They took their opportunities with both boot and in hand including a sneaky try when Remy Grosso was able to intercept a pass from Ben Smith and run in unopposed from 20 metres out.
The men in blue really did a good job of disrupting the All Blacks rhythm and their defence was not easy to break down.
This combination meant that they got out to an early lead and held that lead into half time.
The All Blacks looked like a team that was patient to a certain degree but that was also beginning to get a bit frustrated at the lack of crispness and penetration in their attack.
There were a few too many errors by the home side and that would have annoyed Steve Hansen. He would have been happy though with the way that the three Barrett brothers contributed to the All Blacks only try of the first half – Scott Barrett made a nice burst through a couple of tacklers and was able to offload to Jordie who sprinted away.
The ball was quickly recycled and Beauden made a lovely sweeping move around the back of the ruck to take the final pass and score in the corner.
It was a reminder of how quickly the All Blacks can pounce but the fact that they only did this once in the first half highlights how strong the Blues had been in defence.
They really made it hard for the home side to get any off loads out of the tackle and so made it hard for the Kiwis to get in behind the defence.
The game was perfectly poised for the second half. The All Blacks started to put the French under real pressure in the first ten minutes and the visitors had to defend for a long period of time.
But defend they did and the score remained 8-11 for the French up until the 52nd minute. Unfortunately, this is where things changed.
The ref had been doing a very good job up until this point – he’d controlled the sides well and had already penalised Aaron Smith for one suggestion too many.
But in the 51st minute he made a rash decision to sin bin Paul Gabrillagues for a high tackle without asking for some TMO support.
Refs are often criticised for referring too many decisions to the TMO but in this instance it was critical that the technology available was used.
Instead the ref made an immediate decision and while the French lock jogged off the replays were showing that the tackle really only deserved a penalty at most.
The All Blacks hadn’t been able to get their rhythm going against 15 men but against 14 men they moved up through the gears quickly and were flying.
During the 10 minutes sin bin they scored twice and that broke the French hearts. After that they ran in another four tries which blew the score out.
Many of these were very nice tries including some great counter-attacking examples that saw players like Ben Smith, Ryan Crotty, Damian McKenzie and Ngani Laumape show off their pace and ability to hold off defenders in close quarters.
The All Blacks confidence was up and they did a very good job of keeping the ball and making the French defend a huge amount in the final 30 minutes.
When the French did have the ball they tried hard but lacked any real creativity and while players like Mathieu Bastareaud and Teddy Thomas are real weapons, they needed some space and support to pose a real threat.
The French will be frustrated not just at their yellow card but at the fact that when Sam Cane put in his own high tackle in the second half the referee still didn’t check the replays and this time only gave a penalty to the visitors.
If the French deserved a yellow card then the All Blacks definitely did and this inconsistency is very annoying.
Despite the result the French can look to game two with some hope. For 50 minutes they were going toe to toe with the best in the world.
Thomas looked dangerous at times and his pace is just incredible – if they can get him some more ball in space in game two then he will scare any defender.
The French will need their No.9 and No.10 to do a better job though. They weren’t bad in this game and it’s always hard when you don’t have the ball or are going backwards, but the French side need their halves to control the game and get their forwards running onto the ball.
Parra’s inability to kick off his wrong foot is an issue and caused some trouble for the French when they tried to clear from their own 22.
The clearances were leading to All Black line outs on the 22 and just heaped more and more pressure on the visitors. They need a bigger boot to help them get out of defence.
For the home side there were some good performances. Codie Taylor played well and seemed to be involved in both scoring and assisting in tries in the second half.
Liam Squire had a quiet first half but was impressive in the second, stealing lineouts and running hard with the ball.
Super subs McKenzie and Ngani Laumape impressed with their pace and ability to run nice lines (although McKenzie really should have passed as he looked to score his second try of the night!) and Hansen will be happy that his bench was able to have a real impact on the game.
If you just saw the scoreline you would assume that this was a very one-sided game and that the whole series is already decided.
But the devil is in the detail and the French need to remind themselves of the first 50 minutes as they prepare for Game two next weekend.
Yes, the All Blacks are strong favourites but the French showed that they can ruffle a few Kiwi feathers.
New Zealand 52