France test host All Blacks right to end
On a perfect night for attacking rugby, the All Blacks all but forgot how to attack. Not until the very end, at least.
Their scratchy 24-9 third test win was a disappointing way to end an up and down series in which France caused more problems than many had expected.
As a warm-up for the Rugby Championship, it was far from ideal.
Urgent French defence, combined with a lack of attacking continuity, meant an ugly night all round.
Hell bent on slowing the All Blacks ball, the men in black simply lacked the power to clean out effectively and string phases together.
Maybe it was simply a case of looking to run before they could walk but the All Blacks really struggled to get anything going.
In the end it came down to the boot of returning first five-eighth Dan Carter, who kicked four penalties for the All Blacks to get the job done.
Wing Ben Smith, touted as the answer at centre when Conrad Smith takes a break, tried hard, as did Rene Ranger, but it just wasn't happening.
France were certainly in for a fight, to at least salvage some pride, and deserve plenty of credit for playing as hard as hey did.
All Blacks coach Steve Hansen would have been downright frustrated at some of the play and it did stymie his plans to introduce Charles Piutau and Steven Luatua early for their debuts.
Just as the first test in Auckland, France battled manfully without threatening heaps on attack.
It all combined for a messy night.
Just how the All Blacks come back from this performance will not be seen for weeks but it's hard not to think Steve Hansen will be more than grumpy as he ponders the season to come.
A number of players will also wonder if they remain in the coach's plans to face South Africa, Australia and Argentina.
The overwhelming majority of pundits had predicted France were already on holiday.
That theory took all of 30 seconds to be proved wrong as they hurried the All Blacks from the opening whistle.
The returning Dan Carter had his kick charged and the All Blacks were under pressure.
Far from finding their composure, the All Blacks continued to struggle to find their flow.
Their kicking game was either a tad long, a tad short or just not needed.
It was as if they had taken the confidence from Christchurch's success and simply tried to mirror it.
Their attack was also lateral as France read it all too easily.
In the end the All Blacks reverted to sending their big men through the middle.
It brought some success, too, as Ben Smith finished off a nice period of continuity to slide in in the corner on 26 minutes.
That success was quickly forgotten as Wyatt Crockett gave away a needless penalty in front of the posts and France drew the score back to 8-6.
It summed up a miserable first 40 minutes for the two All Black props who found referee Nigel Owens far less obliging as previous northern hemisphere controllers in the series.
Scrum hits were too low or to far apart while there was also a lack of discipline in general play from the tight men.
It all meant Crockett had an early night, replaced early in the second half by Tony Woodcock, as Piri Weepu made way for Tawera Kerr-Barlow.
The first half could have finished on a bright note had Conrad Smith been able to control the ball and score with 15 seconds remaining.
The act summed up the match.
There was at least the chance for the crowd to cheer at the end as Beauden Barrett got all of three minutes. He used it wisely, too, scoring with 20 seconds left after the All Blacks finally found their attacking touch, all too late.
All Blacks 24 (Ben Smith, Beauden Barrett tries ; Dan Carter 4 pens, con) France 9 (Yoann Huget 2 pens, Florian Fritz dg). HT; 8-6.