Patrick McKendry

Patrick McKendry is a rugby writer for the Herald.

All Blacks exposed by poor defence

Israel Dagg of the All Blacks is tackled by Wesley Fofana of France during the international test match between France and the New Zealand. Photo / Getty Images.
Israel Dagg of the All Blacks is tackled by Wesley Fofana of France during the international test match between France and the New Zealand. Photo / Getty Images.

Welcome back to the Northern Hemisphere, All Blacks; a place which puts as much emphasis on defensive rugby as the attacking stuff and on this evidence at the Stade de France this morning, it's easy to see why.

The All Blacks were exposed time and again by poor tackling. It wasn't the system they were using as much as simple technique. Even the usual rock solid Ma'a Nonu was at fault. At one stage in the first half he missed two consecutive tackles. Wing Charles Piutau was another to get it wrong, although he would redeem himself spectacularly in other areas. In all, Steve Hansen's men missed 12 tackles in the first half. France missed one.

This was a world away from the test against Japan in Tokyo last weekend and the rust and new combinations in the back line showed. Dan Carter, badly in need of game time, was replaced after 52 minutes by Aaron Cruden. Nonu threatened in the first half and then went quiet. Questions remain about his midfield partnership with Ben Smith but in truth Steve Hansen has few other options in Conrad Smith's absence.

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It took a fine opportunist's try from Piutau - who until then had found his third start in nine matches a difficult one - to give the All Blacks breathing space and boy did they need it. At 12-12 early in the second half, the All Blacks craved something to spark them - as much for their confidence as anything, for it was a bit of a hole they were in.

The faith Hansen has in 22-year-old Piutau was repaid again in the form of the wing's stunning assist for Kieran Read's try. There wasn't much on when he received the ball on France's 22m line, but a shimmy and flicked pass sent Read in. It takes confidence to do that sort of thing on the biggest stage - here was more evidence that he has something special.

Why were his interventions so important? Because momentum disappeared almost as soon as the All Blacks started to threaten and they simply couldn't get their game going. Turnovers, the life blood of a team like the All Blacks who thrive on counterattacking, were extremely hard to come by. They were being forced into playing at France's pace and as they showed during the World Cup final of two years ago, that slow, trench warfare style of play can be extremely taxing.

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The majority of the 80,000 crowd booed Richie McCaw as his named was read out before the start and they were right to see him as their bete noir. The skipper was one player in white who tackled like he meant it. Prop Owen Franks was another.

The French would have been shocked by Cory Jane's near-try in the opening minutes, the All Blacks wing doing fantastically well to be in a position to ground the ball despite being airborne, legs across the touchline.

Hansen's men had their own shock at the other end of the game when the excellent Wesley Fofana broke through and went close. It was another missed tackle, the one area the All Blacks must fix fast ahead of their test against England at Twickenham next Sunday.

- APNZ

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