Slow starts were very much in vogue yesterday. First New Zealand allowed themselves to be tied down by Italy before running out 42-10 winners in Rome, then France were caught by an early try-scoring charge from Argentina, but preserved their unbeaten record in Lille with a 39-22 victory, thanks in part to two tries by Vincent Clerc.
The All Blacks were never behind, but Italy clung to them in the first half to keep the deficit down to 13-7 at the interval after striking back with a try by Alberto Sgarbi in response to Kieran Read having crossed early.
But Italy had tired themselves in trying to suppress the New Zealand attack and they faded in the last quarter. Tries by Ma'a Nonu and Cory Jane, followed by two late on for Julian Savea, gave the All Blacks a comfortable margin of victory and kept them unbeaten in 19 games.
Clerc recorded his 33rd and 34th Test tries in the space of only three minutes as France, who had upset Australia 33-6 last week, recovered from a try in the first few minutes by Marcelo Bosch. Yannick Nyanga added the third try after a superb solitary breakthrough to give France a 24-13 half-time lead.
The second half turned into a battle of the boot and in the slippery conditions both sides laboured to play fluent rugby. Frédéric Michalak kicked 24 points against 14 for Nicolas Sanchez.
Ireland, struggling to find form after five Test defeats in a row have pushed them down to eighth in the world rankings, used the non-cap outing against Fiji to take a look at potential young reinforcements to the first team and may have come up trumps in the 53‑0 victory at Thomond Park.
Needing a boost before their vital Test against Argentina, they called up a trio of uncapped Ulster players who put themselves in coach Declan Kidney's thoughts with strong performances.
Winger Craig Gilroy ran in three tries, fellow Ulster newcomer Luke Marshall scored the final try and the third of the trio, Paddy Jackson, had a good day with the boot.