Through a bizarre mixture of skulduggery and cunning, France may just have found a way to play the All Blacks. By relentlessly slowing the game down they undoubtedly frustrated Graham Henry's men in Paris on Saturday night.
Wearing a cream replica of the outfit worn by the 1906 team against New Zealand, France found all manner of devious means of achieving their aims. They were competitive, prepared to sacrifice their bodies in a manner that went a long way towards banishing the memory of their puny performance in the first Test seven days earlier. They conceded only two tries, so it appears there may be a way of reigning in New Zealand's attack.
That's the good news. The bad news is that the All Blacks still won this two-Test series by 70-14 and that the sight of the French kicker, Dimitri Yachvili, lining up a penalty with three minutes left to make the scoreline look better was a telling comment in itself.
New Zealand had to defend more than they probably expected, but they did enough to suggest that no one is even coming close to matching their intensity at the breakdown, their physical might at the scrums, their line-out organisation, and their creativity, running angles and variety.
France, having scored through Cédric Heymans after a defensive mistake by Leon MacDonald, denied the All Blacks a try until the final minute of the first half, Joe Rokocoko finishing off a typically flowing move covering 60 metres. That, with Daniel Carter's three penalties, transformed the score into 16-5 at the break. When New Zealand scored first after half-time, Carter working Ma'a Nonu over under the posts, it was all over.
France remained spirited, and though they could not break through again they did find a few gaps to suggest this will not quite be New Zealand's first-choice World Cup side. When it came to making real dents, New Zealand looked a class apart. True, it didn't happen that often, but every team is excused some below-peak displays. This was one of them.
Afterwards, Henry said: "We have improved immensely in our forwards; the scrum has really gone ahead and the line-outs are now solid. We are very pleased with the development of the team. It's pretty obvious we are favourites for the World Cup and that's a good place to be."
France: Try Heymans; Penalties Yachvili 2. New Zealand: Tries Rokocoko, Nonu; Conversions Carter 2; Penalties Carter 3.
France: P Elhorga (Agen); A Rougerie (Clermont-Auvergne), F Fritz, Y Jauzion, C Heymans (all Toulouse); D Traille (Biarritz), J-B Elissalde (Toulouse); O Milloud (Bourgoin), R Ibañez (Wasps, capt), P de Villiers
(Stade Francais), L Nallet, P Pape (both Castres), R Martin (Stade Francais), J Bonnaire (Bourgoin), E Vermeulen (Clermont-Auvergne). Replacements: D Yachvili (Biarritz) for Elissalde, 26; D Szarzewski (Stade Français) for Ibañez, 55; S Marconnet (Stade Français) for De Villiers, 55; S Betsen (Biarritz) for Martin, 55; L Jacquet (Clermont-Auvergne) for Pape, 55; C Dominici (Stade Français) for Elhorga, 68
New Zealand: L MacDonald (Crusaders); J Rokocoko (Blues), M Muliaina (Chiefs), M Nonu (Hurricanes), S Sivivatu (Chiefs); D Carter (Crusaders), B Kelleher (Chiefs); A Woodcock (Blues), K Mealamu (Blues), C Hayman (Highlanders), C Jack (Crusaders), A Williams (Blues), J Collins (Hurricanes), R McCaw (Crusaders, capt), R So'oialo (Hurricanes). Replacements: N Tialata (Hurricanes) for Woodcock, 58; J Eaton (Hurricanes) for Jack, 60; A Ellis (Crusaders) for Kelleher, 73; A Hore (Hurricanes) for Mealamu, 75.
Referee: C White (England).Reuse content