New Zealand 24 France 9
New Zealand completed a 3-0 series clean sweep of France with a hard-fought but deserved victory at Yarrow Stadium in New Plymouth.
Ben Smith’s first-half try helped give the All Blacks an 8-6 lead at the break and local boy Beauden Barrett added a second score in the final minute to finish things off as New Zealand recorded a 26th successive home win and seventh on the trot against France.
The rest of New Zealand’s points came from the boot of record-breaking fly-half Dan Carter, whose four penalties and one conversion saw him move onto 1,399 points in Test rugby on his 95th appearance.
France responded with two Jean-Marc Doussain penalties and a Florian Fritz drop goal but, despite an improved showing, they could not avoid slumping to a third successive loss against the world’s top team, having been beaten 23-13 and 30-0 in the opening two matches.
France took the lead in the eighth minute when South Africa-born number eight Antonie Claassen collected a towering midfield bomb, putting his side in position for Fritz to slot over a drop-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 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 midweek game against the Blues, Doussain was flawless when kicking at goal but struggled to find his rhythm.
His second missed penalty kick today 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, France coach Philippe 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 slid in to score in the right corner for a try that was awarded after being referred to the TMO.
Perhaps unimpressed by what he had seen in the opening half, New Zealand coach Steve Hansen wasted no time before summoning Tawera Kerr-Barlow and Tony Woodcock to enter the fray.
That coincided with an apparent 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.
Replacement Barrett then made his entrance and had his hometown crowd of over 24,000 in raptures when he crossed the whitewash at the sound of the full-time siren to wrap up the victory.