New Zealand sealed a Test series victory over France with a dominant 30-0 win at the AMI Stadium in Christchurch on Saturday.
The two sides will meet again next weekend in New Plymouth with France unable to overtake New Zealand’s unassailable 2-0 lead, which came after a comfortable victory over their fellow 2011 Rugby World Cup finalists.
France showed good accuracy and discipline last weekend in Auckland but their lineout this time out particularly in the first half was shambolic; coming under pressure from New Zealand but also wildly missing their targets.
Ben Smith’s breakaway try at the beginning of the second half summed up France’s woes – putting sustained pressure on the New Zealand line but unable to find a breakthrough as they finished without a score in a Test for the first time since 1990.
Philippe Saint-André made several changes to his side following the first Test defeat, with Michalak returning at fly-half and young South African-born flanker Bernard Le Roux making his debut in the number seven jersey.
A late change for New Zealand meanwhile saw Crusaders lock Sam Whitelock come into the side for Chiefs second row Brodie Retallick, in an otherwise unchanged XV from last week’s victory in Auckland.
The hosts made the early breakthrough – Ma’a Nonu’s grubber finding Julian Savea behind the defence to rack up the game’s first try in only the third minute of the match.
France struggled to control possession at the lineout and found themselves stuck inside their own half for much of the opening quarter, although some impressive defence on Nonu in particular prevented any further damage on the scoreboard.
Les Bleus had been on top at the breakdown in the first Test and continued that form early on in Christchurch, disrupting any clean ball for the All Blacks who enjoyed the majority of possession as France persisted to kick the ball away.
Two moments of inaccuracy then struck Frederic Michalak within a few minutes, a drop goal falling wide and then his first penalty attempt ricocheting back off the right-hand post and putting the All Blacks on the attack as Read countered. Pressure on Maxime Medard fielding a kick near his own line yielded a penalty for Aaron Cruden, putting New Zealand 10-0 up.
The All Blacks kicking game continued to press France back into their 22, but whilst the visitors defence was excellent, Dimitri Szarzewski’s problems running the short lineout kept handing New Zealand possession five metres out. For every lineout error however, the work of Thierry Dusautoir and Louis Picamoles at the breakdown saved the day time and again.
With time ticking away in the first half the All Blacks defence repelled a French driving maul to the leave the visitors scoreless at the interval, New Zealand 10-0 up.
The All Blacks then delivered the knockout blow. Outstanding defence metres out from their own line for the first ten minutes of the second half forced Michalak into a drop goal, the inevitable chargedown leading to Savea and Ben Smith sprinting away for a length of the field score.
Losing Louis Picamoles to injury rubbed salt in French wounds as Cruden added a second penalty – New Zealand leading 20-0 with plenty of time left in the second half.
Looking for something to take towards the third Test next weekend, France introduced plenty of substitutes including Mathieu Bastareaud in midfield but fell further behind due to another Cruden penalty after 64 minutes.
Determined not to concede, New Zealand remained physical in defence and then sealed the win with a stunning score.
Attacking from their own try line, Conrad Smith’s chip over the top was recovered by Cruden, whose slick offload to Beauden Barrett saw the young replacement canter in under the posts.
France toiled to find some points as time ran out but to no avail – a dominant victory for New Zealand who showed plenty of improvement from last weekend in Auckland and added some memorable tries to boot.
– Planet Rugby