Wynne Gray

Wynne Gray is a Herald columnist

All Blacks: New ideas fail to translate on field

All Blacks lacked rhythm and cohesion in the face of a strong French defence.

Somewhere the All Black link between whiteboard analysis and on-field performance hit a glitch.

Malfunctions are always part of sport. Many factors contribute, especially the purpose France brought to their work on defence and at the breakdowns.

They knew how to stunt the All Blacks' craving for width and ball movement and they pressured those areas under the guidance of their relentless skipper, Thierry Dusautoir.

It became a shade easier for them because the All Blacks lacked real rhythm and cohesion as they worked through new ideas about shifting the focus of their attack. A wayward pass, a stutter or two or mis-shapen alignment gave France time to adjust.

They craved confrontations at the tackle and breakdown and piled the pressure on Dane Coles and his lineout targets.

France dominated the second-half territory and possession but were denied by a resolute All Black defensive line until referee Wayne Barnes clocked off a 23-13 victory to the hosts.

Relief was the main reaction from a rejigged All Black side led at home for the first time by Kieran Read.

They were stung early when lively Wesley Fofana scored from a midfield defensive slip as France shed tackles and caused trouble in the outside channels.

The 45,561 crowd was quiet until Ben Smith slashed through midfield and then Ma'a Nonu did likewise, to create two stirring tries converted by Aaron Cruden.

That five-minute burst just shy of halftime became more significant as the test surged and faltered through a range of strikes and troughs.

France were shut out around the 50th minute as they battered at the All Black line but failed to pierce the defensive wall.

Then, in the 62nd minute, powerful No8 Louis Picamoles could not grasp a pass near his knees for a try that would have squared the match.

Around those dangers, the All Blacks had a few attacking forays without any reward except another Cruden penalty.

Barnes penalised them for a lineout obstruction on a 5m drive and not releasing in the tackle, details which allowed the visitors to escape the garrotting a ruthless All Black side would inflict.

That sort of result has some way to go on the evidence at Eden Park.

"A lot of us are working on new things and when you do that you create mistakes," coach Steve Hansen said.

"We will go away and review the match and try and get rid of the avoidable errors - which I think there were 25 of - and work away at refining what we are trying to do."

A number of the foundations are robust, though, especially their determination and technique on defence.

That resolve shone through when they repelled a 90-second sequence of French drives at the line as the tourists sensed that moment to regain the lead.

Hansen thought that All Black work was among their best.

"We had a young side out there who kept their composure and that's the type of player we need to win big test matches," said Hansen. "There were glimpses of real spark but there was not enough detail and when that happened the All Blacks looked like every other team.

"We got a win and a whole lot of information that we can go away and digest and improve our game."

- NZ Herald

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