New Zealand have beaten France 49-14 in Dunedin in the third Test and wrapped up the series 3-0 in an exciting game.
With the yellow and red cards from the first two matches fans were really hoping that this final match of the series would see both sides have a chance to show off their very best for the full 80 minutes, and we weren’t disappointed.
The French took the game to the All Blacks right from the outset and ran hard into the defence over and over racking up passages of play that included over 15 phases consistently.
The All Blacks defence had to work hard to keep the French out and they did that for the first 12 minutes but eventually the French found the gap and Serin dived in after a lovely dummy created some space.
It was deserved reward and gave the French confidence and faith that their approach could work. In the rest of the first half they would have lots of possession and territory and played very well.
They were able to put the All Blacks under genuine pressure at times but the problem was that they just weren’t quite clinical enough.
For the Kiwis they had far fewer chances in the first half but when they did have a chance they made the most of it. Whenever they entered the French 22 they looked dangerous and often came away with points.
Their second try was a very canny piece of play. They had a line out on the French 5m line and everyone assumed they would go for the driving maul, and they did.
However instead of throwing the ball high to someone line Scott Barrett, they threw it flat to Todd at the front of the line and drove from there.
It took the French by surprise and they couldn’t get any decent opposition against the drive.
Of course this series has been impacted by controversy as big decisions seem to have gone against the French and while there were no cards today there was still time for some more controversy.
The game was all square with less than 10 minutes until halftime and the All Blacks had a scrum in midfield just outside the French 22.
A lovely pass from Aaron Smith put McKenzie in a nice gap and he ran in to score. However replays showed that the space was partly created by the referee obstructing the French No.9 as he tried to get over to make the tackle.
It looked like the score would be overturned and the scrum reset but instead the score was given. It wasn’t necessarily a game-defining moment, but it did give the Kiwis the lead before halftime and their score just after halftime did make the gap too big for the French to overcome.
In the second half the game was still there in the balance but the All Blacks were pretty brutal. They had found a rhythm that was missing in the opening 15 to 20 minutes and as they moved through the gears the French were finding it harder and harder to stay with them.
In defence the French always worked hard but they were never going to be able to keep the All Blacks out as wave after wave of attack came at them.
In the tight the Kiwis played accurately and got rid of many errors that haunted them in game two. In the loose the Kiwis exploited space well and the likes of McKenzie and Ioane were only too happy to use their pace to pile the pain on the visitors.
In attack the French had some real issues with their set-piece – especially their line out. It fell to pieces in the second half to the point where the French would have to tap and go with penalties in their own half when they would have been desperate to kick to touch and gain 30m for free.
When they did have the ball they looked good but not great. They have really missed Fofana who had a good game and added a real threat. But they never really unlocked the All Blacks defence and in the end they scored zero points in the entire second half.
For the Kiwis there were some really good performances. Scott Barrett was fantastic all game and was an incredible force to be reckoned with. McKenzie had a good game at No.10 and brought some genuine control to his already well-known running game.
He’s not a real threat to Beauden Barrett for the starting fly-half position but he’s growing into a great second choice who can be relied upon.
Ioane scored a nice hattrick in just 12 minutes in the second half and looked dangerous all night and it was great to see Sonny Bill Williams back in black and looking so powerful. His off loads were great and really gave some go forward to the Kiwi’s attacks.
The French have been beaten in all three games relatively easily but they should go home with some extra confidence to take into the Autumn Internationals and next year’s 6 Nations. They have some real talent and have shown great heart in this series when things have gone against them.
For the All Blacks this game was a good note to end the series on but they will know that Australia and South Africa will pose a much harder threat in the Rugby Championship.
All Blacks 49