Patrick McKendry 's Opinion

Patrick McKendry is a rugby writer for the Herald.

Patrick McKendry: The best of the test

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Sam Whitelock further cemented himself as one of the best locks in world rugby. Photo /Getty Images
Sam Whitelock further cemented himself as one of the best locks in world rugby. Photo /Getty Images

Patrick McKendry rates the top performers following the second test between the All Blacks and France.

Forward of week: Sam Whitelock
Called in at the 11th hour due to Brodie Retallick's hamstring injury, Sam Whitelock was outstanding. He came into the test without playing for two weeks due to his broken finger but slotted straight back into the All Blacks machine with no signs of rust. Played a big part in France's lineout problems - the French lost six of their own throws. Further cemented himself as one of the best locks in world rugby.

Back of week: Ma'a Nonu
He blamed himself for a lot of went wrong last weekend, but Ma'a Nonu was one of the All Blacks' best in Auckland and he went up a notch in Christchurch. His vision and skill combined for Julian Savea's try after four minutes and he later showed a tremendous touch to control a flat Aaron Smith pass with only his left hand in a charge which gave Israel Dagg an opportunity to score only for the fullback to be held up in goal.

Coach Killer: All Blacks defence
Down only 10-0, the key for France was to score straight after the break and they would be right in it. The kitchen sink was duly thrown, only for the home side to deny wave after wave of French attacks over more than five minutes. Back they were pushed, until Freddie Michalak's dropped goal was charged down and Ben Smith went over at the other end. It explained Philippe Saint-Andre's thousand-yard stare afterwards.

Hansen's highlights

Improvement
Steve Hansen demanded improvements from the first test and boy did he get them.

The intensity was lifted and a key indicator of that was the All Blacks' defence. Possession was till lost in contact but the wet conditions could excuse that and, besides, some of the handling was outstanding. The poor French were in disarray at the end. Bodies in blue jerseys were lying all over the place. They just couldn't find a way through the black wall.

Game plan
During the week Hansen had hinted of there being space behind the French. No one could predict how the All Blacks would exploit it to the extent they did. Ma'a Nonu's grubber through for Julian Savea's try was an obvious example, but all of the All Blacks' backs kicked well. The French, up flat to try to spark a way back into the series, had no answer. They were turned so often they appeared to be chasing their tails.

Depth
All of the All Blacks reserves added something. In Jeremy Thrush's case, while he may have been disappointed not to get a start when Brodie Retallick was crocked during the week, his 12 minutes represented his first All Blacks cap. For Beauden Barrett, on for the last five minutes, it brought his first All Blacks try, an incredible team effort which he started on his own line. For panache, it rivalled the French "try from the end of the earth" at Eden Park in 1994.

Series win
With the series wrapped up, Hansen has the option of bringing in some of his new boys such as Blues players Charles Piutau, Francis Saili and Steven Luatua for the third test in New Plymouth. Dan Carter will be available for next Saturday's match and Sam Whitelock came through with no damage to his injured finger. No wonder Hansen was cracking jokes in the post-match press conference.

- APNZ

Patrick McKendry

Patrick McKendry is a rugby writer for the Herald.

Rugby writer Patrick McKendry began his journalism career 20 years ago and has worked in newspapers in New Zealand and the United Kingdom. He worked in a communications role on his return here before joining APN before the 2011 World Cup.

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