All Blacks emerge with hard-fought win

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Lynn McConnell     15 Nov 2017     Getty Images

Sterling defence, especially in the third quarter, provided the match-winning impetus for the side but there were frustrations with lengthy TMO consultations resulting from lapses in All Blacks' discipline which breathed life into the France XV's efforts towards the end.

Halfback Tawera Kerr-Barlow who, barring injuries, played his last game provided an experienced hand for the side, with two tap penalties creating key tries. It wasn't a night for flowing backplay but second five-eighths Ngani Laumape proved a handful in mid-field.

Captain Luke Whitelock was a constant presence off the ruck and driving the ball forward but few drove harder than lock Patrick Tuipulotu. Flankers Liam Squire and Ardie Savea were also strong with the ball while lock Dominic Bird was superb in the lineout and mauling play.

France rebounded after losing a tighthead at the first scrum courtesy of a strong sideline run by wing Hugo Bonneval. He carried play close to the All Blacks line. While they conceded a penalty and a lineout, the All Blacks gained a scrum feed from the lineout maul.

Another strong run by second five-eighths Jonathan Danty threatened to cut New Zealand open but in Kerr-Barlow's tackle, Savea secured a turnover and the ball was released for Squire, centre Jack Goodhue and wing Seta Tamanivalu to make ground down the left flank.

The All Blacks mounted an impressive display of continuity with Tuipulotu taking it forward on the right flank before it was released left with Squire completing the move with a try in the 10th minute.

France were undeterred and continued to make good use of their wealth of possession and their ability to move the ball effectively saw them make use of superior numbers for wing Gabriellie Lacroix to score their first try after 14 minutes.

Quick thinking at a penalty by Kerr-Barlow caught France napping and ground was made again on the left before the ball was moved wide with Laumape and fullback David Havili's passes creating space for wing Matt Duffie to score.

Four minutes later, in the 27th minute, Laumape's attempted wide pass to Squire was picked up by Lacroix and he ran 70m to score.

Trinh-Duc kicked a penalty goal to give the France XV a 15-14 lead at half-time.

After the break New Zealand camped in the French 22m with several attempts close to the line with hooker Nathan Harris going close on one occasion and Squire another but finally it was Tuipulotu, who had been head down and driving ahead all game, who got over beneath the crossbar for a 51st minute try.

Akira Ioane marked his debut with a strong run soon after taking the field and from that the All Blacks built more pressure and when awarded a free-kick at a five-metre scrum Kerr-Barlow went quickly again and from the resulting play Laumape twisted and bumped his way over the line for a 55th minute try.

The game became bogged down, more than in the loose turf in the stadium, through TMO consultations firstly for a block by replacement prop Atu Moli and then for a tackle by Goodhue 14 minutes from the end of the game as the French mounted a promising attack.

A downfield kick by Havili was run back by France and flanker Sekou Macalou raced into a gap like a centre to carry play 50 metres downfield and while tackled by first five-eighths Richie Mo'unga it was centre Henry Chavancy who ducked around the blindside of the ruck to score.

Another high tackle, this time by Mo'unga allowed France to use a penalty to get back into the All Blacks' 22m area but the France XV were penalised and the All Blacks cleared. There were still French efforts to maximise their chances in Goodhue's absence but the defence held and having returned for the last moments it was Goodhue who kicked the ball for touch to end the game.

Scorers: France XV 23 (Gabrielle Lacroix 2, Henry Chavancy tries; Francois Trinh-Duc con, pen; Jules Plisson pen) New Zealand 28 (Liam Squire, Matt Duffie, Patrick Tuipulotu, Ngani Laumape tries; Lima Sopoaga 3 con; Richie Mo'unga con). HT: 15-14