New Zealand beats France 24-9 in 3rd test
NEW PLYMOUTH, New Zealand (AP) — Winger Ben Smith scored one try and created another in a rugged but disjointed match Saturday as New Zealand beat France 24-9 to complete a 3-0 sweep of the three-test series.
Smith slid over in the right corner in the 35th minute for his second test try of the season and the fourth of his career, emphasizing his role as the most influential player of the series. He put in a kick that led to a try by hometown hero Beauden Barrett, ensuring New Zealand swept its first three-test series against France in 43 years.
Flyhalf Dan Carter, in his first All Blacks appearance this year, kicked four penalties and a conversion for 14 points to move within one point of becoming the first player to reach 1,400 points in tests.
Smith made the break that led to the decisive try in New Zealand’s 23-13 first test win at Auckland, scored a try in its 30-0 second test win at Christchurch, and provided the critical plays on Saturday that allowed it to stave off the spirited performance of a young French team.
All Blacks coach Steve Hansen retained Smith on the right wing for Saturday’s match, despite pressure to try him in a new role at outside center, and that decision largely paid off as the versatile player injected two moments of brilliance into an otherwise lethargic All Blacks performance.
The French, who incorporated a number of inexperienced players into their lineup, played with outstanding spirit for the first 60 minutes before tiredness — the result of a long tour and season — sapped their energy.
They played a strong kicking game in the first half, made possible by sound set-pieces, and they chased strongly and defended with accuracy and energy, causing New Zealand’s attacking game to lose focus.
The All Blacks were constantly forced onto the back foot and into a defensive mode by France’s kicking and by the vigor with which they chased kicks and attacked breakdowns within the New Zealand half. The few opportunities New Zealand had to attack before halftime were mostly squandered by handling or tactical errors, which were the result of belligerent French defense.
“France played very well and placed us under pressure, and there was a wee lesson there for a few people about their preparation,” All Blacks coach Steve Hansen said. “To be fair to France, I thought they played the first 45 or 50 minutes of the game really, really well. That last 20 minutes we really stepped up and that’s the best we’ve defended in the whole three matches.
“We started to make ground, we came forward and forced them into mistakes and we controlled the game. Credit to them for their first 50 minutes, and we’ve got a bit of work to do with ours.”
France led 3-0 through an eighth-minute dropped goal to center Florian Fritz, until Carter landed a penalty in the 15th minute to relieve some pressure on an All Blacks team that had operated without continuity and with scraps of possession.
Smith’s try in the 35th minute was a game-breaker in a match which seemed likely to be decided by narrow margins. He held his station in the right wing as New Zealand first probed the left side of the defense, then moved the ball quickly crossfield through Carter and Israel Dagg. The fullback’s cut-out pass found Smith in a narrow channel near the touchline, and he had enough momentum to hurl himself under his marker and just inside the right-hand corner flag.
France continued to press New Zealand strongly, reducing its advantage to 8-6 at halftime with a penalty to scrumhalf Jean-Marc Doussain — his first success from three attempts. Doussain goaled again in the fifth minute of the second spell to briefly retrieve the lead for France at 9-8.
That lead lasted for only three minutes, until the 48th minute, when Carter kicked his second goal from four attempts to put New Zealand ahead 11-9. He goaled again in the 58th minute as New Zealand built a narrow ascendancy to give it the small comfort of a 14-9 lead, then added the conversion of Barrett’s try in the last minute.
Barrett, who took the field as a late replacement, plays domestic rugby for Taranaki province, which is based in New Plymouth and he was welcomed onto the field as a local hero. He was in action for only moment when he made a decisive midfield break which put the All Blacks behind the French defense. The ball carried to Smith on the right wing and he put in a deftly weighted kick that Barrett — staying in support — pounced on to score.
The try distorted the final score in New Zealand’s favor, making it seem far more decisive than it was. France was fully competitive for three-quarters of the match, and closely rivaled the All Blacks at set-pieces and in the physical contest for the loose ball. It defended stoutly and it placed the home team under severe pressure with its accurate kicking game, but its effort noticeably weakened in the last quarter — the legacy of a trying season in which it finished last in the Six Nations championship.
“It was a better game than last week,” said French captain Theirry Dusautoir who led France in the 2011 World Cup final against the All Blacks and said he has now played his last match in New Zealand. “Unfortunately, I think the last 20 minutes were tiring and it was hard physically. The lineouts and the scrum were a lot better than the last game but, as I told you, I think were a bit short physically.
“Our defense was better. We were more focused and I don’t think we gave as many gifts to the All Blacks tonight.”
New Zealand 24 (Ben Smith, Beauden Barrett tries; Dan Carter conversion, 4 penalties), France 9 (Jean-Marc Doussain 2 penalties; Florian Fritz dropped goal). HT: 8-6.