Once again New Zealand were made to work very hard to get the better of France at Eden Park, winning 23-13 on Saturday.
Once again New Zealand were made to work very hard to get the better of France at Eden Park, winning 23-13 in an entertaining clash on Saturday.
In the first game between these sides since the 2011 Rugby World Cup Final at the same venue, the All Blacks outscored their visitors two tries to one but were pushed all the way by a French side showing a marked improvement on their woeful Six Nations campaign.
New Zealand led 17-10 at the interval thanks to tries from Aaron Smith and Sam Cane after France had taken the early lead via a Wesley Fofana score.
There was very little to choose between the old rivals but a series of scrum penalties against France proved influential as they killed off a number of promising attacking opportunities for Philippe Saint-AndrÃ©'s men.
The result sees the All Blacks take a 1-0 lead in the three-Test series but with the tourists set to be reinforced by players who took part in the recent Top 14 Final, the next fortnight promises to be intriguing.
France drew first blood when Florian Fritz sliced through in midfield and offloaded to his centre partner Fofana, who raced home.
Maxime Machenaud added the extras and the visitors held a 7-0 advantage until the end of the opening quarter when Aaron Cruden landed his first penalty.
The All Blacks scored their first try on the half-hour mark after Ben Smith burst clear before finding his namesake Aaron up in support.
Cruden's conversion put New Zealand in front but Machenaud replied to level the scores with half time looming large.
Ma'a Nonu ensured that the hosts would head into the tunnel in the lead however as he beat Camille Lopez to set up a try for Cane with skipper Kieran Read proving the link.
Cruden's conversion was the final act of an evenly-contested and entertaining first half.
With Machenaud off injured, Lopez took over the French kicking duties and narrowed the deficit early in the second period.
Referee Wayne Barnes was the centre of controversy before kick-off as the French management and press found it highly irregular that the Englishman was staying at the same hotel as the hosts and Bleus skipper Thierry Dusautoir was fuming when the visitors scrum was penalised while camped on the Kiwi tryline.
Cruden restored the seven-point gap on the hour mark before the All Blacks were given a massive let off when Louis Picamoles knocked-on in front of an open tryline.
The pattern of missed chances – from both sides – continued until the final hooter with Cruden's third penalty securing the win.
Man of the match: A tough call to make. Louis Picamoles, Florian Fritz and Adrien Plante all did well for France while Ma'a Nonu made a welcome return to form in the black 12 jersey. But we'll go for Ben Smith, who not only created New Zealand's first try, but was rock solid at the back as the French looked to get the ball behind the Kiwi pack.
Moment of the match: The difference between the sides proved to be Sam Cane's try on the stroke of half time after Nonu beat Dusautoir.
Villain of the match: The scrums were a mess, but no nasty stuff to report.
For New Zealand:
Tries: A. Smith, Cane
Cons: Cruden 2
Pens: Cruden 3
Pens: Machenaud, Lopez
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 (c), 7 Sam Cane, 6 Liam Messam, 5 Brodie Retallick, 4 Luke Romano, 3 Owen Franks, 2 Dane Coles, 1 Wyatt Crockett.
Replacements: 16 Keven Mealamu, 17 Ben Franks, 18 Ben Afeaki, 19 Jeremy Thrush, 20 Victor Vito, 21 Tawera Kerr-Barlow, 22 Beauden Barrett, 23 Rene Ranger.
France: 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 (c), 5 Yoann Maestri, 4 Sebastien Vahaamahina, 3 Luc Ducalcon, 2 Dimitri Szarzewski, 1 Thomas Domingo.
Replacements: 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.
Venue: Eden Park, Aukland
Referee: Wayne Barnes (England)