The All Blacks completed a 3-0 series victory over France on Saturday with a 24-9 win at Yarrow Stadium in New Plymouth.
The result is New Zealand’s seventh consecutive win over the French, who were once again held try-less, but the result hung in the balance right up to the dying minutes.
New Zeland led 8-6 at the end of an entertaining first-half thanks to a try from wing Ben Smith, but there was very little to choose between the sides.
Indeed, the fired-up Bleus put in a much-improved display in all areas on last week’s disaster – especially at the set piece and in their kicking out of hand – and regularly breached the All Backs’ defensive line.
But the hosts would strike at crucial times with Smith’s try coming just before the break before Beauden Barrett scored in the last minute to give the scoreline a flattering appearance.
The hosts were given an early let off when referee Nigel Owens harshly called France back for being offside after a clever chip over the top had the Kiwi defence scrambling behind their tryline.
The French would nevertheless take a deserved early led as centre Florian Fritz slotted a drop goal to ensure the visitors were given some reward for a period of sustained pressure.
Dan Carter leveled the scores with a penalty on the 15-minute mark after Yoann Maestri was pinged for a side entry after an attacking line-out for New Zealand.
Carter hit the upright with his next effort before Jean-Marc Doussain sent his first attempt wide to leave the scores locked at 3-all after half-an-hour.
The visitors would have felt they had enjoyed the upper hand in the first half but – as has become a pattern in this series – the All Blacks scored just before half time, with some help from the TMO, as Israel Dagg set up Ben Smith to dive into the corner.
Carter’s conversion attempt went wide but Doussain bounced a penalty in off the post to leave the gap at just two points at the interval.
France moved back in front early in the second half after Sam Cane caught Doussain high and the scrum-half again got his kick over off the upright. Carter replied almost immediately to restore the home side’s advantage but missed his next shot a goal.
At 11-9 with 25 minutes to play, it was anyone’s game.
The second-half ruck penalty count started to add up against France though and Carter slotted a wonderful kick from the touchline to put New Zealand 14-9 up heading into the final quarter.
A reckless head-first dive into a ruck from Maestri, who copped a yellow card, would essentially seal the win for the hosts as Carter slotted his fourth penalty to extend the gap to eight points and les Bleus finished with 14 men.
Barrett rounded off the win with a long-ronge try as he chased down Smith kick ahead to sink a nail into France’s coffin.
Man of the Match A mention for rookie French pivot Remi Talès, who gave France a new attacking dimension but the standout performnace came from Luke Romano who carried like a machine and tackles tirelessly.
Moment of the match: No doubt about this one, Ben Smith’s try was the turned the tide in New Zealand’s favour.
Villian of the match: If you’re French, it must be Yoann Maestri, whose brain fade killed off France’s chances when they were still in with a sniff.