All Blacks 37 France 12

Allez les All Blacks.

They're not perfect yet, but the All Blacks are developing nicely, says WYNNE GRAY.

All Blacks 37 France 12

Allez les All Blacks.

It was a case of another test and more progress from Wayne Smith's side when they dealt to France in Wellington.

Each week the challenges have been greater and on each occasion the All Blacks have answered the exam.

Not all the questions, but overall they were a far more efficient combination than the Tricolors, picking up two tries in each half to head for the Tri-Nations on the back of an unbeaten and improving standard.

Once more they headed the tick list with their defence and have conceded only two tries (both against Argentina) in their three tests.

The lineout remains strong in the front and middle, some of the pick-and-run forward work was impressive, and two planned back moves were as slick as any seen in international rugby.

Jonah Lomu, Jeff Wilson, Pita Alatini and Tony Brown were workaholic contributors whose early mistake rate was negligible, allowing the pressure to build on the visitors.

The French were a tough defensive unit, but Brown at pivot did much to generate the opening two tries, where his decisions created chances for his pack and then Wilson to nab his record 43rd try for the All Blacks.

They kept the ball and did not get too expansive where errors could have let the French into the test.

The visitors were strong up front, but their backline was not very creative, and first five-eighths David Skrela struggled to find a rhythm as he was pressured relentlessly.

For half an hour the All Blacks won every lineout but made a few handling mistakes which meant Justin Marshall did not feed a scrum until the 35th minute.

After the interval the All Blacks hit a flat spot. Their lineouts were scruffy, their scrum messy and they suffered further when referee Alan Lewis yellow-carded Norm Maxwell for a marginal high tackle.

However, they clung on with the defensive clout which has underlined their season.

After Maxwell returned, they were upset in a couple of scrums close to the French line where their pack was either screwed or shunted to deliver difficult ball.

"We butchered a couple of tries there and it is just a lot more work we have to do," assistant coach Tony Gilbert said. "We also tried to find holes in their lineouts with our calls sometimes, instead of doing the basics, but that is a bit of an experience thing."

While they muffed a couple of moves to the back of the lineout, ball from that set piece delivered twin tries in the last 10 minutes which were gems.

Ball off the top of the lineout was flicked away smartly by Byron Kelleher with his first touch and smart passing put Wilson into a gap where his timing and then pass laid on a try for Lomu.

The second was equally smart from a lineout.

Alatini hit Doug Howlett with a great pass as a decoy run went in and the replacement wing doubled from the blindside to the open for a try from his first touch.

It continued his remarkable run of scoring in each of his seven internationals.

They were great moments to cap a tough physical exam.

All Blacks 2001 test schedule/scoreboard

All Blacks/Maori squads for 2001