Gregor Paul

Gregor Paul is the Herald on Sunday's rugby writer

Piutau stars in ABs win

Charles Piutau of the All Blacks is tackled during the international test match between France and the New Zealand All Blacks. Photo / Getty Images.
Charles Piutau of the All Blacks is tackled during the international test match between France and the New Zealand All Blacks. Photo / Getty Images.

All Blacks 26
France 19

Raw courage, a bit of luck and some magic from Charlie Piutau saw the All Blacks cling on to victory this morning in Paris.

And they really were clinging. A finger grip is all they had in the final minutes as France threw the kitchen sink at them and came so, so close to scoring the points they would have needed to have at least drawn.

They were over the line at one point but couldn't get the ball down. From the ensuing five metre scrum there was every prospect of them scoring again. They owned the scrums all night. The All Blacks had another bad night at the set-piece - a dangerously bad one where they would split a few times and left with no option but to pull it down.
Somehow they escaped, though. Their bravery in defence enough to hold the French out and the final whistle couldn't come quickly enough.

The strange thing was that for the early part of the second half it didn't feel like it was going to be such a struggle.

In the first half yes. France were romping all over Stade de France to resounding cheers of allez Blues and oompah bands giving it heaps when, boom, boom the All Blacks flicked a switch and took control of the game.

That's how it often is in this part of the world. The home side, as France did, dominate for 40 minutes, maybe even 50 and then they begin to fray at the edges.

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It was a five minutes blast on 50 minutes that turned things around. Dan Carter slotted his fourth penalty and then Charles Piutau produced two stunning pieces of magic.

The first saw him beat the cover defence to a Cory Jane kick, hack it over the line and control it for the try. The second was equally sublime, a reverse pass out of contact straight into Kieran Read's bread basket leaving the No 8 with an easy romp home.

So much hard work by France, so much possession and territory and in two lightning strikes the All Blacks had the game in their grasp. It was never easy. The All Blacks never had their foot on the throat as such, but they had the buffer from there.

They needed it too. France didn't unravel. They were all flow and movement. Wesley Fofana came to life as he's prone to do and holes appeared. The French defence was also a factor all night. Structurally they were clever in the way they chased kicks so well across the field and funnelled the All Blacks into places where they didn't want to be.

As for their tackling - it was thunderous all night. They barely missed and there were a few that some All Blacks will still be feeling later in the week.

France played with all the passion that was expected and none of the inaccuracy that often comes on those nights when they are emotionally charged. There was rhythm and purpose about their work - especially around the fringes of the breakdown where they off-loaded and recycled with precision and pace.

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The All Blacks spend much of the first half scrambling as a consequence and their cause was not helped by a defensive effort that had a foot at either end of the spectrum.

There were too many missed first up tackles but some outrageously good make-up defence where French bodies were smashed after they had broken the line.

But in the end it was enough. It wasn't emphatic or overly convincing but it was enough.

France 19 (B. Dulin try; M. Parra 4 pens, con)
New Zealand 26 (C. Piutau, K. Read tries; D. Carter 4 pens, con; A. Cruden con)

- APNZ

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