French pace extends young Blues
Three French tries within nine minutes early in the second half shut the Blues out of their international at North Harbour Stadium on Tuesday night as the tourists made the most of a rare midweek match to win 38-15.
Coach Philippe Saint-Andre said the chance to bring young players on tour to test them under match situations they do not strike at home was an important element of the tour and Tuesday's result would have been heartening.
Indiscipline by the Blues cost them dearly as France eased to a 12-3 lead 24 minutes into the game. They were never able to pull the margin back and early in the game it was apparent their night was going to be spent tackling their hearts out to halt while attempting to halt an unrelenting French tide.
Exacerbating the penalty count against the home team was a mauling in the rucks and mauls at the hands of the French pack who played with an intensity beyond anything many of the inexperienced members of the Super Rugby squad had struck before.
Aiding that aspect of their play was a superb demonstration of emerging athleticism for the French from captain and blindside flanker Yannick Nyanga who twice, early in the game, stole lineout ball from the Blues at the back of the line with spectacular leaping.
The Blues were not without prospects. Captain and hooker James Parsons was combative throughout, while No.8 Peter Saili relished the physicality of the contest with some punishing runs to turn at least some of the tide back on the French. Lock Culum Retallick was another to thrive in the tight exchanges.
The Blues got on the board first courtesy of a second minute penalty goal by first five-eighths Baden Kerr, however, they lost him when he failed a concussion test after he took a blow and left the field in the first quarter.
One glorious break out from their own line, again from a Blues mistake when lock Retallick undid some good work after a charge by dropping the ball. Test fullback Maxime Medard broke from deep within his own 22m area, setting in train some outstanding handling as the ball flicked between the outside backs and loose forwards as if the game was more of a basketball contest.
Medard looked to run the ball at every chance and was effective with his upright running style in ghosting in and out of tackle attempts.
However, scrambling Blues defence frustrated the French efforts to score and that was demonstrated when first five-eighths Remi Tales resorted to a dropped goal attempt with five minutes of the first half left.
The Blues started the second half with more intent, but in trying to run the ball out from their own 22m they left themselves vulnerable and the French made the most of an early chance after an uncontrolled line for centre Gael Fickou to get over the line.
Four minutes later wing Noa Nakaitaci was over after a superb demonstration of passing at pace among the backs. And in the 53rd minute that same assured movement of the ball resulted in a second try for Nakaitaci as France hit their straps.
The Blues were not prepared to stand back and some continuity play had its reward, especially after a penalty five metres out was played rather than taking a shot at goal. At the end of several pick and goes it was Parsons who was ruled to have scored.
Back on attack the Blues benefitted when an apparent change of mind by replacement first five-eighths Marty McKenzie looked to have counted against them, however, the ball was retained and when it emerged from a maul, wing George Moala was put into a gap to score.
Blues 15 (James Parsons, George Moala tries; Baden Kerr pen; Marty McKenzie con)
France 38 (Gael Fickou, Noa Nakaitaci 2, Benjamin Kayser tries; Jean Marc Doussain 3 con, 4 pen ).