Three years from now, post the next World Cup, we may look back at this intriguing mid-week match in Lyon as the day the All Blacks revealed their next generation.

Between now and then, no doubt some involved will come and go. Others will emerge from the conveyor belt, too.

But for the majority of this young, inexperienced group who found a way to hang on against a tenacious French XV, this was just as much about 2020 as it was the here and now.

Lima Sopoaga, Tawera Kerr-Barlow, Liam Squire, Patrick Tuipulotu and Nathan Harris aside, none of the starting side are established All Blacks. Six in the squad made their debuts.


Seeing Ngani Laumape and Jack Goodhue, a perfectly complementary midfield pairing, largely nail their chance evokes thoughts of them progressing together alongside Anton Lienert-Brown, with Sonny Bill Williams and Ryan Crotty both likely to exit post-2019.

Young playmaker Richie Mo'unga looked calm and assured off the bench; dynamic hooker Asafo Aumua banked valuable pressure-cooker minutes, even if he did miss the mark with one lineout throw. David Havili, from fullback, scrambled well. Atu Moli also began his transition to covering both sides of the scrum.

All Blacks coach Steve Hansen went through much of his forward pack, shelling out praise to Jeff Toomaga-Allen, Harris, Ardie Savea, locking partners Dominic Bird and Tuipulotu; Tim Perry who played at 80 per cent with a damaged hamstring, and captain Luke Whitelock.

On the back of the opening Barbarians fixture at Twickenham, most of these relative rookies have now had two cracks on this tour; two chances to find their feet. And most were better second time around.

They were put under serious pressure from the French and their near 60,000 vocal fans. They made mistakes, but regrouped and responded, and will be better for the experience.

Look to the final scrum where Moli, Ofa Tu'ungafasi and Aumua, supported by the pack in behind, demolished their French counterparts in a defining moment as evidence of the depth the All Blacks are building before our eyes.

On that front, Hansen gave scrum guru Mike Cron another pat on the back.

"He's turned Ofa into one of the best tightheads going around at the moment," Hansen said.


"Atu has been a tighthead all his career and after a short period of time, we've got him going well on the loosehead. Asafo coming on and being part of that scrum too they'll take that away with them and allow them to grow. The confidence it will give some of those guys you can't buy that."

Any pinnacle event, particularly World Cups, bring a flood of retirements and departures to offshore riches.

It's now commonplace, but the All Blacks have become masters at future proofing this team. This match was a rare, well planned, executed example of it happening all at once.

"Everybody did what we asked them to do and enhanced their reputations," Hansen said.

"To be able to get what we got with as good a polish justifies having 43 people here so we can prepare some younger men not only for tomorrow but even beyond that.

"There's a lot of talk about 2019, but some of these guys may not get their opportunity really until after that. Yes, there was a lot of talk about the money side of it and that's a bonus because we need the money to try and keep our players. But the biggest bonus was these guys got to play two games."

The big dogs will return for the final two tests, starting in Edinburgh this weekend. But this group is now nipping at their heels, awaiting future opportunities.

As for the French, they deserve praise for their part over the past 10 days. Around 30,000 turned up to witness the French Barbarians roll New Zealand Maori in Bordeaux; 80,000 jammed Stade de France in Paris, and then in Lyon we had a frenzied test match atmosphere.

Rugby is alive and well here, even if the national team isn't the best representation.

"Giving the young players they have a crack is exciting but you've got to be able to play every week too," Hansen said.

"If I was involved with French rugby I'd want to know all my good players were playing every weekend and not having foreigners take their spot."