Patrick McKendry rates the top performers and areas of improvement following the first test between the All Blacks and France.
There was a fair bit of pressure on Read. It was the start of his reign as captain in the absence of Richie McCaw and he would have felt the weight of expectation. In the main he played well and the extra burden didn't show, despite the All Blacks conceding a converted try as France made the early running. He was direct in the outside channels and solid as usual on defence. All up a very solid effort.
The Toulouse fullback shouldn't have been on the field for the final five minutes but the heart he showed after his fearful collision with Rene Ranger was extraordinary. He looked towards the reserves' bench in a silent plea but there were no more reserves left. Huget made a couple of (understandable) errors at the end but his final act was to make a scorching break down the right touchline. Gutsy.
The big No8 had a good game apart from one significant mistake in the second half when he dropped a Florian Fritz pass with the All Blacks' line wide open. A converted try then would have evened the score at 20-20 and Les Bleus would have scented a big upset.
"We had a lot of position, a lot of opportunity, and we lost one try," said France coach Philippe Saint-Andre in case Picamoles didn't realise just how significant it was.
Did Aaron Cruden feel "water-boy" Dan Carter breathing down his neck as he lined up his kicks at goal? Probably not, but how else to explain his two misses from his first two kicks, efforts he would put over with his eyes shut at the Chiefs? Cruden's groin problem means he hasn't put as much time into his goalkicking as he would have liked but his two misses, first left of the posts, then right, were uncharacteristic. Test matches often come down to kicking so it's an area he will want to improve. His kicking out of hand wasn't up to its usual standard either.
The midfield duo of Wesley Fofana and Florian Fritz carved the All Blacks up more than Steve Hansen liked. For France's try, Fritz waltzed through a massive gap in the midfield after Sam Cane clipped Ma'a Nonu's heels and both went down. Fofana was the beneficiary when showing good instincts and pace to score an excellent try. France put the All Blacks under a fair bit of pressure at times, Hansen's men forced to make 104 tackles to France's 67. The All Blacks missed 10 and France 13. Next weekend the All Blacks will want to ask a few more questions which depends on their ability to improve on their next point on Hansen's list...
Overall the All Blacks forwards put in a decent shift. Their scrummaging with the maligned Wyatt Crockett and new boy Dane Coles in the front row was good and their lineout reasonably solid, although France put more pressure on in this area in the second half. The ability of the All Blacks' forwards to hang on to the ball in contact, however, was not good. Two often Brodie Retallick and Luke Romano smashed the ball up only for it to be spilled and the French to counter-attack. Conditions were near perfect so there were no excuses there.
The All Blacks are bedding in a new game plan. It's not too different from the old one, a strategy based on tempo - quick ball and players getting quickly to their feet in order to run opposition defences ragged - but there are subtle changes and they need work, something more time together will help. A couple of in-passes to the charging Ma'a Nonu just as Aaron Smith appeared ready to release the ball on the outside appear significant in terms of tactics. The All Blacks will also be working on more moves they haven't revealed yet.