Scrappy All Blacks hold off France

Dane Coles runs in to score the opening try for the All Blacks. Photo: Getty
Dane Coles runs in to score the opening try for the All Blacks. Photo: Getty
The All Blacks' stuttering 2017 season has continued, the world champions eventually seeing off France 38-18 in a classic test of two halves in Paris.

Up 31-5 after an alarmingly one-sided first spell, the All Blacks threatened to melt in the face of an inspired home side after the break.

Four New Zealand tries in the compelling first half were followed by a messy second 40 minutes, highlighted by a bizarre play from second five-eighth Sonny Bill Williams which resulted in a yellow card and penalty try.

With little pressure on him, Williams deliberately batted a cross kick over the dead ball line.

Such a play is allowed in Williams' former code, rugby league, but breaks rugby's laws and warranted a yellow card.

However, the tourists protested vociferously when referee Angus Gardner awarded the penalty try, a decision which handed momentum to the hosts who morphed into a different team.

It took some staunch All Black defence and slippery conditions to keep their tryline clean for the remainder as Les Bleus utterly controlled proceedings.

The New Zealand team enjoyed 73 percent of territory before halftime but managed just 12 percent afterwards.

The five-tries-to-two win mirrored several others this year for the All Blacks, who have struggled to find their most fluent form while blooding a number of new faces.

They were expected to handsomely beat an injury-ravaged French side fielding six uncapped players and two young halves making their first test starts.

The All Blacks found their feet early, dominating all facets in a manner that suggested their loss to the Wallabies last month was behind them.

First five-eighth Beauden Barrett, who missed the Brisbane loss with injury, was particularly influential in general play and landed all his six shots at goal.

Barrett set up the first two tries with neat passes - the first a short ball to hooker Dane Coles and the second a loopy cut-out to winger Waisake Naholo.

Coles was forced from the game soon afterwards, favouring his left knee.

France responded with a slick team try to winger Teddy Thomas, reducing the scoreline to 17-5.

However, referee Angus Gardner ran out of patience with the scrummaging methods of French prop Rabah Slimani, showing him a 33rd-minute yellow card.

The All Blacks pounced on their advantage, scoring quickly through centre Ryan Crotty and flanker Sam Cane. Crotty's try came via a deft grubber from midfield partner Williams.

First five-eighth Anthony Belleau, who enjoyed a promising debut, landed penalty goals either side of the penalty try as France threatened their first win over the All Blacks in 11 tests.

The All Blacks scored against the run of play on the final hooter when Naholo bagged his second try.

 

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