League: Kiwis have plenty to improve on despite big win

By Michael Brown

Bryson Goodwin of New Zealand goes over for a try during the Rugby League World Cup group B match between New Zealand and France. Photo / Getty Images.
Bryson Goodwin of New Zealand goes over for a try during the Rugby League World Cup group B match between New Zealand and France. Photo / Getty Images.

New Zealand 48
France 0

If the Kiwis are trying to build momentum in this World Cup, they didn't really achieve their goal this morning against France in Avignon.

They won comfortably - the result was never in doubt - but they struggled to build pressure and find their rhythm against a disruptive French outfit and have plenty to improve on in their final pool game against Papua New Guinea next weekend.

Hooker Issac Luke was the dominant figure, highlighting just how important he is to New Zealand's campaign and how crucial it is for Thomas Leuluai to regain fitness in case anything happens to the Rabbitohs rake.

He found space darting out of dummy half and set up a double for halfback Shaun Johnson midway through the second half that finally broke the French resistance.

"I thought it was a pretty sound performance,'' coach Stephen Kearney said. "The areas we wanted to improve on tonight, there was a real focus on our defence and I thought that was pretty good tonight.

"I must take my hat off to the French side, they threw everything at us. They were very, very determined in their defence. It took a good performance to get the result.

"We've still got things to work on, I thought there were a couple of areas in our attack that I couldn't recognise so we've still got some improvement but there were some guys tonight who put their hands up which was a real positive for us.''

The Kiwis piled on five tries in the final 28 minutes but it shouldn't paper over the cracks. After a tidy and efficient start, they made errors (14), took wrong options and gave away silly penalties (11). Their completion rate of 73 per cent was only acceptable.
France weren't particularly potent, and often handed possession back to the Kiwis, but New Zealand didn't take advantage and only really look like scoring in the first half when they went to the air.

In this aspect they were very good. Kieran Foran and Johnson were both pinpoint with crossfield bombs and Krisnan Inu (fourth minute) and Bryson Goodwin (25th) climbed high to claim tries. They probably should have had another to Frank Pritchard but the video referee somehow found a knock-on to Jason Nightingale.

But the Kiwis couldn't find a linebreak until Luke broke through in the 34th minute and their execution of set pieces was often poor.

This was an important game for a number of New Zealand players, with competition for spots good across a number of positions on the park. This might have contributed to the sloppy play as individuals tried to impress in the hope of earning a spot for the knockout stages.

Kevin Locke, for instance, had a mixed night as he spilled a couple of bombs but also made some good spot tackles to break up threatening French attacks.

"I thought our first half really came back to haunt us in the second half," French coach Richard Agar said. "At 18-0 they'd run the ball over the try line once.

"It was a courageous effort and I thought we did really well to keep them from getting to our line on a number of occasions. There were a number of errors and indiscipline, not finishing kicks off right and out kick chase. Energy was a massive issue in the second half."

The best part of the Kiwis' performance was their defence. This is not a great French outfit, even though they are ranked fourth in the world, but any time you can keep an opposition to zero something is working well.

The Kiwis came under considerable pressure in one stage in the first half, largely through their own making when Locke spilled a bomb and Sam Kasiano gave away a penalty on the final tackle, but they held firm.

The Kiwis have identified that defence is what will the tournament and have spent considerable time working on their defensive screens and structures.

Luke was the Kiwis' top tackler with 30, showing the full extent of his value.

Johnson was good, claiming 24 points and kicking eight from eight, Jared Warea-Hargreaves (129m) was again impressive as he found some good go-forward and Ben Matulino (196m) rumbled the ball up well.

The Kiwis also seemingly got away without any injuries and that is crucial in a long campaign.

New Zealand 48 (Shaun Johnson 2, Frank-Paul Nu'uausala 2, Krisnan Inu, Bryson Goodwin, Greg Eastwood, Roger Tuivasa-Sheck tries; Shaun Johnson 8 gls) France 0. HT: 18-0.

- APNZ

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