Injuries add to France's woes for final test
Frederic Michalak's pained expression summed up everything about the French touring team as they limp toward New Plymouth for the third test.
France's first five-eighth was a sorry sight as he was escorted into the medical room behind the northern stands of AMI Stadium.
Not only could he clearly not move his shoulder, but Michalak had the same exasperated look of the uninjured teammates that followed after 80 minutes of banging their heads against a black wall. Michalak and No 8 Louis Picamoles have since been ruled out of the final test.
"We will carry on to play with pride because I think the guys were still in there for the full 80 minutes," coach Philippe Saint-Andre said after the match as he sat alongside sullen captain Thierry Dusautoir. "A lot of French teams might have lost by 50 or more here. Our guys carried on, they didn't stop playing.
"But we didn't score because their defence was fantastic, the urgency they had in defence was amazing tonight."
Saint-Andre's hand gestures said as much as his words. There is simply no clear answer for a side that promised so much in Auckland, but were a distant second a week later.
Which brings us back to Michalak. The playmaker was supposed to run France's attack, but instead brought it to a shuddering halt with two failed drop goal attempts.
The first came after one of only two French forays into the All Blacks half during the first half.
The second was charged down by openside Sam Cane, the result being a thrilling try to wing Ben Smith at the other end of the field.
Michalak simply ran out of ideas because the All Blacks defence was so stifling and relentless. Attempts to run second five-eighth Wesley Fofana outside Ma'a Nonu did not work and nor did 19 phases of pick and go.
Now Saint Andre must find another pivot to try and unlock the All Blacks defence. His options are first test debutante Camille Lopez or Castres' championship winning Remi Tales.
The All Blacks have no such worries. They will likely replace the assured and confident Aaron Cruden, with the world class Dan Carter.
The Dominion Post