Wynne Gray is a Herald columnist

Rugby: France at their ruthless best

Blues centre Malakai Fekitoa, right, in action during the rugby match against France. Photo / Brett Phibbs
Blues centre Malakai Fekitoa, right, in action during the rugby match against France. Photo / Brett Phibbs

France 38 Blues 15
Who knows whether test places were on offer for France after their solid showing at Eden Park.

However the "dirt trackers" delivered a strong display last night which should send coach Philippe Saint-Andre into some lively debate with his selectors before he reveals his side for the next international in Christchurch.

France claimed the victory at North Harbour Stadium in a match filled with a high entertainment measure for the 10,071 crowd and invaluable messages for the Blues.

"We got some great lessons - in the lineout they are some of the best mirrors in the world and put us under pressure there," Blues coach John Kirwan said.

"At the breakdown we found rulings that were different from Super rugby but it has been a fantastic experience for our young guys. This was unbelievable for our group, especially the young boys and they did not stop trying.

"The thing I was really pleased about was the lessons we gave our guys at halftime about using the pick and go, they implemented. Great effort, great experience."

The midweek Tricolores dominated the first half and the Blues only got out of their territory on rare occasions.

They had an early chance when they chose to kick for the lineout drive rather than goal. But as the Blues discovered, France were a formidable defensive force at the set-piece.

They filched that lineout and cleared their line. They repeated that often while they also dominated the few scrums and the breakdown where they had collected double-figure turnovers before the end of the first spell.

Test wing Maxime Medard was an attacking menace from fullback, running great lines on the counter as he linked with his loose forwards led by captain Yannick Nyanga who had been a replacement during the test.

Medard has a disconcerting lazy running style which conceals a step and change of pace, often making a mess of the first line of defenders.

The other central figure in the French thrusts was halfback Jean Marc Doussain, who brought a range of attacking ideas while he also showed his nifty goalkicking.

As much as France probed or shifted the ball to the flanks, they could not find a way to the tryline. Doussain had four penalties from five shots but the Blues defence was huge.

For most of the Super 15 they have played with a similar passion, refusing to concede soft tries and working extra hard on their technique and teamwork. They repeated that with great scrambling defence in the opening 40 minutes when they were under enormous heat.

The Blues lost starting five-eighths Baden Kerr to concussion after 18 minutes and one penalty success but got to the break only 12-3 behind. They had held strong but that was the gain before the pain.

Centre Gael Fickou and wing Noa Nakaitaci, twice, scored in the opening 12 minutes after the break as the Blues resistance started to crumble. Any thoughts of a famous hometown victory were fading.

But not gone as the Blues responded with two tries of their own.

One to skipper James Parsons was dubious but referee Jaco Peyper thought it was fine before George Moala cleared a track in midfield past some feeble defence.

France rested the bulk of those who started test at Eden Park while the Blues had six players away with the All Blacks and captain Ali Williams and Luke Braid sat out the contest.

France (Gael Fickou, Noa Nakaitaci 2, Benjamin Kayser, tries; Jean Marc Doussain 4 pen, 3 con )

Blues ( James Parsons, George Moala, tries; Marty McKenzie con, Baden Kerr pen)

Halftime: France 12-3.

- NZ Herald

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