France in Paris - or Marseille for that matter - are never easy.

As a former player I know that when you hit these cities in the final game of a northern tour (usually the French capital), a home team seen as under-performing can turn up and produce a real contest, which is exactly what we saw yesterday.

French supporters were at the Stade de France very early; they believed something special was about to happen, and it very nearly did.

I made my test debut in France and I remember looking around the stadium as I ran out with the All Blacks. This rivalry is a real one. We talk about our Southern Hemisphere rivals and we don't like losing to England, but when I think about a team that always gets up to play New Zealand, it's France. They have the best record by a Northern Hemisphere team against us. They are always dangerous.


For the French, nothing beats a win over the All Blacks and that's why we get a test like we got here. And for me it was a revelation because, while I have plenty of admiration for their players and their rugby in general, the thing that's irked me most about them over the past six years or so has been the way Les Bleus have played.

It's been negative. Yes, they were competitive during the 2011 World Cup and perhaps did enough to win it, and they have had some success since, but they haven't been enjoyable to watch.

That changed yesterday. They played with the flair and skill that we're used to seeing in French rugby. They didn't pass for the sake of it, they stepped, offloaded, probed for gaps, and generally played with a joie de vivre we haven't seen in years.

I smiled at the sight of it. Steve Hansen and his players wouldn't have been smiling though, because they had to work hard physically and mentally. They were challenged for a long time and went without the ball for a long time. It was a fitting finale for a tough yet successful year.

They had to get out of tough positions against Wales in June, but were successful there and in the Rugby Championship. Against France they were ruthless when they got their opportunities.

There will be elements of this test and tour that Hansen and his senior players won't be happy with, but, apart from the loss against Ireland in Chicago, they always found a way to win, and that's the ultimate in sport. They will have to evolve, though, because there has been an element of catching up from other nations. There is the considerable challenge of next year's series against the British and Irish Lions to prepare for.

It's been a great year for New Zealand Rugby in terms of on-field performances. The All Blacks wiped the floor at the World Rugby awards, the Hurricanes won a Super Rugby title, and the Mitre 10 Cup, once it dispensed with the experimental laws, was entertaining.