All Blacks win French battle
Kieran Read (Gallo Images)
Auckland - Aaron Cruden had a mixed night with his boot but managed to slot 13 points for the All Blacks as they held off a combative France side 23-13 in the first game of their three-Test series at Eden Park on Saturday.
The All Blacks, who had not lost at the Auckland venue since France coach Phillipe Saint Andre sparked "the try from the end of the world" in 1994, scored two counter-attacking tries late in the first half that proved the difference.
Both sides wasted several golden opportunities to score, most notably France number eight Louis Picamoles who dropped the ball with the line open following a devastating break from Florian Fritz.
"We have to be pretty happy with that. A tough, tough test match. Certainly our accuracy can be better but nothing was going to be perfect tonight," All Blacks captain Kieran Read said in a touchline interview.
"I think it's something to build off and we'll certainly be happy with the result there."
France inside centre Wesley Fofana opened the scoring after a break by Fritz when Sam Cane and Ma'a Nonu collided and opened a gap for the Toulouse centre to ghost through.
Scrumhalf Maxime Machenaud converted for a 7-0 lead before Cruden slotted his first penalty, after two earlier misses, in the 22nd minute.
The All Blacks then scored their first try when scrumhalf Aaron Smith finished off a searing break by winger Ben Smith to give the home side a 10-7 lead.
Machenaud slotted a penalty to make it 10-10 before Cane crossed for a 38th-minute try when the All Blacks forced a turnover. Nonu cut back across the defensive line and fed Aaron Smith who made the final pass to the lurking flanker.
Cruden's second conversion gave the All Blacks a 17-10 lead at the break.
France flyhalf Camille Lopez, who took over the goalkicking when Machenaud limped off early in the second half, slotted a penalty that rallied the visitors.
A number of penalties at the breakdown and scrum, however, swung it back to the All Blacks, with Cruden pushing the lead out to seven points again with his second penalty.
Picamoles then dropped the ball with the line open after another break from Fritz and neither side were able to capitalise as the match was played in the middle of the field before Cruden slotted his third penalty.
"We were close to the All Blacks, but we made too many mistakes, lost too many balls in the contact and they got a lot of opportunity due to our mistakes," France captain Thierry Dusautoir said.
"We didn't keep control of the ball and that is very important that when you have the opportunity to score against them, you do it."
The second match of the series is in Christchurch on June 15 with the final game in New Plymouth a week later.Teams:New Zealand:
15 Israel Dagg, 14 Ben Smith, 13 Conrad Smith, 12 Ma'a Nonu, 11 Julian Savea, 10 Aaron Cruden, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Kieran Read (captain), 7 Sam Cane, 6 Liam Messam, 5 Brodie Retallick, 4 Luke Romano, 3 Owen Franks, 2 Dane Coles, 1 Wyatt Crockett
Substitutes: 16 Keven Mealamu, 17 Ben Franks, 18 Ben Afeaki, 19 Jeremy Thrush, 20 Victor Vito, 21 Tawera Kerr-Barlow, 22 Beauden Barrett, 23 Rene RangerFrance:
15 Yoann Huget, 14 Adrien Plante, 13 Florian Fritz, 12 Wesley Fofana, 11 Maxime Medard, 10 Camille Lopez, 9 Maxime Machenaud, 8 Louis Picamoles, 7 Fulgence Ouedraogo, 6 Thierry Dusautoir (captain), 5 Yoann Maestri, 4 Sebastien Vahaamahina, 3 Luc Ducalcon, 2 Dimitri Szarzewski, 1 Thomas Domingo
Substitutes: 16 Guilhem Guirado, 17 Vincent Debaty, 18 Daniel Kotze, 19 Akexandre Flanquart, 20 Yannick Nyanga, 21 Jean-Marc Doussain, 22 Frederic Michalak, 23 Maxime Mermoz