Blacks underline their class

Even a spirited French display couldn’t prevent New Zealand from triumphing 23-11 in Paris.

France haven’t beaten New Zealand since 2001 and though they never looked like turning around that sequence of results, they did show glimpses of the side many know them to be.

They improved exponentially in all facets of play from the dire showing in Lyon a week ago and marshaled by Rafael Ibanez, the pack sought to assert a physical dominance they had lacked in the first Test.

Their rucking and counterrucking work at the breakdown stifled the All Blacks early in the first half and Byron Kelleher was constantly prevented from supplying the quick, front foot ball their backs thrive on.

The All Blacks though dominated possession for most of the match and despite an early Cedric Heymans try, never looked under any sort of pressure.

But if this is their first choice choice team as Graham Henry would have us believe, it’s a first choice team that lacked the incisiveness of the Lyon second stringers.

Individually Ma’a Nonu and Mils Muliaina were impressive but struggled as a combination and as a result their back three rarely saw any ball.

The All Black pack was solid without being phenomenal, with Chris Jack being the pick of the lot, and their backline looked uncharacteristically devoid of ideas at times. Credit here has to go to a dogged defensive effort by the French as well.

But even though they showed glimpses of their human side, they were still the better outfit for the majority of the Test.

Defensively they were outstanding and testament to this is that it took nearly 159 minutes of Test rugby between the sides before the French broke their defensive line from structured play. In this regard a 79th minute Aurélien Rougerie burst was the brightest moment for the French other than Heymans’ fortuitous try after Leon McDonald failed to collect an up and under, leaving his defence exposed.

The timing of New Zealand’s first try would have been a huge blow to the French, who up until that point had maintained parity in most facets of play. Joe Rokocoko’s first-half injury-time score came after McDonald broke the line and offloaded. Deft interpassing eventually saw Carter send the winger over for his 35th Test try.

Carter’s conversion, added to his three earlier penalties, sent his side into half-time 16-5 up.

The mercurial flyhalf was involved in their second try 10 minutes after the break as well. Multiple phases by the All Black forwards sucked the defence in before Carter switched passed with Nonu, who ran a perfect angle to evade the cover defence and score under the posts.

The French missed three penalties in total but that can hardly be used as an excuse for the loss, as New Zealand spurned three good opportunities to score themselves.

In the end, the French revival that many pundits had predicted did materialize. But passion alone failed to overcome a New Zealand side who look poised to dominate world rugby for the foreseeable future.

Scorers

France

Tries:Cédric Heymans
Conversions:
Penalties:Dimitri Yachvili (2)

New Zealand

Tries:Joe Rokocoko, Ma’a Nonu
Conversions:Dan Carter (2)
Penalties:Carter (3)

Teams

France: 15 Pépito Elhorga, 14 Aurélien Rougerie, 13 Florian Fritz, 12 Yannick Jauzion, 11 Cédric Heymans; 10 Damien Traille, 9 Jean-Baptiste Elissalde, 8 Elvis Vermeulen, 7 Rémy Martin, 6 Julien Bonnaire, 5 Pascal Papé, 4 Lionel Nallet, 3 Pieter de Villiers, 2 Raphael Ibañez (captain), 1 Olivier Milloud.
Replacements: 16 Dimitri Szarzewski, 17 Sylvain Marconnet, 18 Loïc Jacquet, 19 Serge Betsen, 20 Dimitri Yachvili, 21 David Marty, 22 Christophe Dominici.

New Zealand: 15 Leon MacDonald, 14 Joe Rokocoko, 13 Mils Muliaina, 12 Ma’a Nonu, 11 Sitiveni Sivivatu, 10 Dan Carter, 9 Byron Kelleher, 8 Rodney So’oialo, 7 Richie McCaw (captain), 6 Jerry Collins, 5 Ali Williams, 4 Chris Jack, 3 Carl Hayman, 2 Keven Mealamu, 1 Tony Woodcock.
Replacements: 16 Andrew Ho re, 17 Neemia Tialata, 18 Jason Eaton, 19 Chris Masoe, 20 Andy Ellis, 21 Nick Evans, 22 Luke McAlister.