France fights back to avoid even heavier loss to New Zealand
By JEROME PUGMIRE
Nov. 12, 2017
SAINT-DENIS, France (AP) — Only a second-half rally salvaged pride and prevented another humiliation for France in a 38-18 loss at home to World Cup champion New Zealand.
It was France's 11th straight loss to New Zealand, but it could have been far worse after the All Blacks scored four first-half tries seemingly at will.
New Zealand routed France 62-13 in the 2015 Rugby World Cup quarterfinals. Another hammering appeared inevitable when hooker Dane Coles, winger Waisake Naholo, center Ryan Crotty and flanker Sam Cane scored tries — all converted by flyhalf Beauden Barrett— to give the All Blacks a 31-5 lead at halftime at Stade de France.
France coach Guy Noves was infuriated by a first-half showing he considered totally inept.
"It would have been a disaster if we hadn't reacted at halftime," he said. "Our first half wasn't up to the standards of an international team. We lost an enormous amount of balls, lacked aggression in the rucks and lost possession as soon as we won it in the lineout."
Noves added that the players "needed an electroshock at halftime," and although he got a good response from them, it was not enough to arrest a increasingly long string of losses to the three-time world champions.
France has not beaten New Zealand at home since a victory at Marseille in 2000, and anywhere since an away success in Dunedin in 2009.
Noves' experimental lineup, featuring four players on debut and an inventive halves pairing, did at least give the All Blacks a fright in the second half until Naholo scored in the final seconds, his second try of the game.
"We lost our discipline a little and a result of that we allowed the momentum to shift and the French were good enough to put us under pressure," coach Steve Hansen said. "We gave away 11 penalties in the second half and some of them were pretty basic."
France's only first-half riposte was a try from right winger Teddy Thomas. But after receiving a penalty try conceded by Sonny Bill Williams, who was sin-binned at the start of the second half, the French rallied gamely back to 31-18 with half an hour left.
Thomas then had a try ruled out in the right corner, after a video review, as the momentum briefly threatened to turn under drizzly skies.
France showed its intent by meeting New Zealand's haka challenge, marching forward with arms linked before stopping in their tracks.
Burly center Mathieu Bastareaud, recalled for the first time since that World Cup humiliation two years ago, was in tears during the anthem, "La Marseillaise," and made a thumping early tackle on Naholo. But it only briefly stemmed the waves of All Blacks attack.
The first breakthrough came in the ninth minute when scrumhalf Aaron Smith peeled away from of a scrum and fed Barrett, who gave Coles an easy 10th international try.
After left winger Rieko Ioane was held up just short, Smith recycled the ball quickly to Barrett, and he flipped a looping pass over to Naholo. Barrett's conversion made it 17-0 with less than 20 minutes gone.
The French hit back via Bastareaud, center Geoffrey Doumayrou and fullback Nans Ducuing, who combined to send Thomas into the right corner. But the hard-won momentum was lost when tighthead prop Rabah Slimani was sin-binned near the end of the first half for repeated scrum collapses.
The All Blacks took full advantage. Crotty latched onto Williams' grubber-kick behind the defense. Then, seconds before the interval, Cane crossed after a break by Ioane down the left.
Flyhalf Anthony Belleau, one of the new French caps, landed a penalty just after the restart and the penalty try came moments later. Williams was carded for infringing on left winger Yoann Huget as he chased a high kick into the left corner.
"Good lesson for Sonny to catch it next time," Hansen said, "not pat the ball out."
After Belleau's second penalty kick punished another New Zealand error in the scrum, the All Blacks were up against it until Naholo sprinted down the right for their fifth try to put the result beyond doubt.
The All Blacks, who were coming off a loss to Australia last month, will play Scotland at Murrayfield next weekend and Wales in Cardiff on Nov. 25.