All Blacks coach Steve Hansen says France lock Paul Gabrillagues probably didn't deserve the yellow card in the second half which effectively turned the test.
For the All Blacks, it was the first of two contentious decisions by the officials they got the better of tonight. They were also extremely lucky not to lose Ofa Tuungafasi for a shoulder to the head of France wing Remy Grosso, one of the visitors' best.
It was an accidental but violent act in the second half which came following a high tackle on the same player by flanker Sam Cane. Grosso was taken to hospital afterwards.
Tuungafasi could have been yellow carded at least and there is potential for a citing, so the non-action by referee Luke Pearce's or his assistants will not help the temper of French coach Jacques Brunel, who said it probably warranted a sinbinning.
Brunel said: "The first half was good… for the second half … the yellow card [for Gabrillagues] was key.
"It was very hard to fight with the All Blacks after that.
"Yellow card or not yellow card, we had to deal with it," he said.
The card for Gabrillagues halfway through the second half killed off France's chances. Steve Hansen's men showed in that final quarter that they were several levels above France and probably would have won anyway, but they scored two tries while the French were a man down and took control of what until that point was a tight test.
"It was high but I don't think it was a yellow card personally, but I'm not the ref," Hansen said afterwards.
For skipper Sam Whitelock, the dynamic with referee Pearce, who marched halfback Aaron Smith back 10 metres for backchatting after a penalty, was a learning curve. Whitelock said: "There were a couple of things that I questioned him on but the [important thing] for myself is how I question the referee. There's a bit of learning there for me."
The All Blacks can have few complaints with the referee, an Englishman, and they won't have many about the performance of replacement loosehead prop Karl Tu'inukuafe either. The 25-year-old was a revelation in his debut test after he arrived seven minutes into the second half, but Hansen was wary about talking him up too much.
"I think he proved tonight that he's of All Black standard. He is worthy of the jersey. He made a pretty good statement first up. There's no better way to get the respect of your teammates and opposition. Well done to him.
"He's a pretty humble big fella. I never met Keith Murdoch but he's got a moustache like him and scrums like him. He's pretty big around the chest. He's just starting, we have to make sure we don't blow him up by pushing him too fast too early.
Whitelock said: "When Karl came on and we got that penalty from the scrum [it was significant]. It felt like the boys knew it was really the time to go for it… to dig deep and go again."
France skipper Mathieu Bastareaud said: "It was a lesson today and there are two other games to improve on. We have a lot to do."
Brunel said: "It's just the beginning."
In reality he will know he has a difficult task to get his men believing in themselves for the two remaining tests in Wellington and Dunedin.