Improved France test All Blacks

Getty Images     23 Jun 2013     Getty Images

As expected, France played like a team that had a huge weight taken off its shoulders.

After losing the series last week it was clear Phillipe Saint-Andre's men were willing to throw everything towards a consolation win, and almost succeeded after edging ahead twice.

The first All Blacks Test played at Yarrow Stadium in four years was almost an anti-climax to the series that was wrapped up with a clinical display in Christchurch.

Though the World champions threatened to run away with the match early, uncharacteristic errors stunted their momentum while boosting the confidence of their opponents.

A try to wing Ben Smith late in the first half was thought to be a glimpse of what was in store after the break but what resulted was a duel between goal-kickers.

Only a last-minute try to home crowd favourite Beauden Barrett ensured the score board flattered the All Blacks.

The lead changed four times as poor discipline by the All Blacks allowed France to stay in touch through the boot of halfback Jean-Marc Doussain.

The return of first five-eighths Dan Carter, from a cracked bone in his hand, proved the difference - he scored 14 points with the boot - but it was hardly convincing stuff.

Against a shaky French defence, the All Balcks hoped to refine last week's performance which saw them dismantle the Tricolours 30-0 at AMI Stadium.

The new structures introduced this year were effective when executed well but for the most part it was clear that more work was needed.

Steve Hansen will now have to think long and hard about which of his troops are worthy of a call-up to defend the Rugby Championship in two months time.

Firmly in his mind will be the dilemma of whether to pick Rene Ranger for a possible seven Tests before he departs for French Top 14 club Montpellier in September.

The Blues wing proved his high-paced, high impact style can be applied with good effect from the opening whistle at Test level after two cameos from the bench.

Blindside flanker is another position that requires attention. Seeking an enforcer that can dominate the contact area, Victor Vito ticked a few boxes but was guilty of committing basic errors.

While Carter's 95 caps should grant him a first look at first-five, after a patchy showing in his first international appearance of the year, there will be a strong case for Aaron Cruden to continue the work he did in the opening two Tests.

Carter's confidence certainly wasn't helped when a charged down clearing kick resulted in a turnover inside his own 22 just seconds after kickoff.

Clearly looking to chance his arm, France play-maker Remi Tales launched an ambitious chip over the defence but the chasing players were caught offside.

The home side responded with its own attacking raid and came close before Conrad Smith's hands failed him.

South African-born Antonie Claassen made his predecessor in the No 8 jersey Louis Picamoles proud when he collected a towering midfield bomb, which put France in position for Florian Fritz to slot a dropped goal.

That was followed by a scintillating sequence of play where the visitors were again sniffing at the All Blacks goal line after wing Marc Andreu split the defence then off-loaded to his support.

But just as they had done a week earlier, New Zealand relieved pressure by stealing possession at the breakdown then launching a swooping counter-attack through Ben Smith.

The ball was knocked on but when the All Blacks received possession again, Carter slotted his first penalty goal of the night to level the score at 3-3 after 16 minutes.

France's back three of Brice Dulin, Yoann Huget and Andreu improved their tactical positioning after being caught off guard last week. Along with halfback Doussain they applied pressure by kicking to space but poor defence meant they were not able to build on it.

During a mid-week game against the Blues, Doussain was flawless when kicking at goal but struggled to find his rhythm at Yarrow Stadium.

His second missed penalty kick denied France a six-point lead that would have given them the momentum heading into the half-time break.

Resisting the temptation to strip him of the kicking duties, French coach Phillipe Saint-Andre would have been relieved when Doussain nailed his third attempt late in the half.

That helped France cut the deficit to just two points after Smith scored in the right corner.

Perhaps unimpressed by what he saw in the opening half, Hansen wasted no time before making summoning Tawera Kerr-Barlow and Tony Woodcock to enter the fray.

That coincided with a lift in the tempo from the All Blacks that France struggled to cope with.

Another penalty to Doussain gave the visitors a brief 9-8 lead before Carter negated that with three of his own to push the All Blacks 17-9 ahead.

Blues flanker Steven Luatua was awarded his first Test cap when called off the bench with 15 minutes remaining. And as Carter relieved pressure with his fourth penalty goal, Charles Piutau and Matt Todd also made their debuts.

They were followed by first-five Barrett, who had his home town crowd of over 24,000 in raptures when he crossed the whitewash at the sound of the full-time siren.

Scorers: New Zealand 24 (Ben Smith, Beauden Barrett tries; Dan Carter con, 4 pen) France 9 (Jean Marc Doussain 2 pen; Florian Fritz dropped goal).
HT: 8-6