French earn Hansen's kudos, ABs fail to flatter
Before he answered any questions, All Blacks coach Steve Hansen wanted to make a statement.
It went like this:
"I would like to congratulate both sides on what has been a fiercely fought series.
"It could have easily deteriorated, the third match, but I think France definitely turned up to play tonight and probably played their best match.
"We had to weather that and we did that and won the series 3-nil. We are very happy with that.
"We are really happy we've introduced five new test caps. We've given everyone in the squad game time, apart from Francis [Saili], and we're really happy with how the new caps have gone.
"Kieran Read has had three test matches at home as a leader and he will have learnt a lot from that. From a team perspective, we're very, very happy with where we are sitting. We've introduced a new game plan, we've had all three 10s have time trying to drive that and tonight wasn't easy for Dezzy [Dan Carter] who would probably like to have another test match next week and have another go at it, but as we saw with Crudes [Aaron Cruden], it takes a bit of time to get into the saddle.
"Overall, we are very happy with where we are at, as I said."
There we have it - the State of the All Blacks address, delivered by the boss after the scrappy 24-9 third test win in New Plymouth on Saturday night.
No mention of the obvious lack of quality in the All Blacks' attack at Yarrow Stadium, which left many of the 23,300 crowd rather flat. Just the positives.
Credit to France was due, though.
To a man they were up for a scrap from the start and they put everything into slowing the All Blacks' ball, were quick with their line speed in defence and committed numbers to the breakdown.
All reasonably simple stuff but enough to put the All Blacks off their game, force mistakes and show up some worrying signs ahead of the Rugby Championship.
Have some players done enough to stay in the squad? Maybe not, but you get the feeling they will be kept.
Piri Weepu's lack of spark was a concern because it ebbed into a backline that produced plenty of kicks, plenty of sideways movement but not enough quality finishing, apart from Ben Smith's 36th minute try and Beauden Barrett's beauty with three seconds remaining.
Most observers are still struggling to figure out exactly what this new All Blacks game plan is.
Instead of attacking a certain area they were happy to kick and counter from France's response. Playing with width is fine but there appeared to be a real lack of players changing angles.
Yes, they all ran hard, chased with verve and were urgent but, Ben Smith and Rene Ranger aside, they just lacked something extra.
France coach Philippe Saint-Andre would have been delighted with the work he got out of one-test first five-eighth Remi Tales, who kicked really well and tried hard on attack.
On the balance of things, using penalties as a guide, they also got the better of the scrum battle where both All Blacks props got on the wrong side of referee Nigel Owens.
Hansen did go on to say they need to tidy up all aspects of their game.
"I would not say we are completely satisfied but we are happy with where we are at. To achieve the things I've mentioned is pretty pleasing," he said.
"We don't want any mistakes but the opposition have a fair bit to do with it. They turned up and played their best match, had a reasonably smart game plan and they implemented it well and put us under pressure."
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