Mistakes from All Blacks Show Little Change, in Win Over France

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France v New Zealand - International Match
PARIS, FRANCE - NOVEMBER 11: Damian McKenzie of New Zealand in action during the International Match between France and New Zealand at Stade de France on November 11, 2017 in Paris, France. (Photo by Xavier Laine/Getty Images)

The judgement is that ‘a win over France is hard enough to achieve’. Even a Les Bleus side with injury worries, can still upset any International side. So while basic mistakes from All Blacks do continue to plague this team, they continue to win when it is needed. A 18-38 victory is a signal that the number one ranked team will not be ‘turned over’ easily on the end of year tour.

What Last Word on Rugby did see though, was a similar outcome to other matches. Sydney, New Plymouth, Cape Town – all matches where early leads did not result in complete performances. The frailties are still evident, and looking at this Scott Hornell and resident referee Scott MacLean dissect the result in Paris yesterday.

Mistakes from All Blacks Show Little Change, in Win Over France

The usually circumspect Steve Hansen was unimpressed with the penalty count of his team. The total of 14 is more than the usual which New Zealand allows, and Hansen was abrupt in his conclusions. “The discipline in the second half was poor, I think we gave away 11 penalties.

Referee Angus Gardner of Australia, Antoine Dupont of France, Aaron Smith of New Zealand during France v New Zealand. (Photo by Jean Catuffe/Getty Images)

“We don’t make it easy for ourselves if we give away penalties, you’re on the back foot. They were dumb penalties, bit disappointed about that.” And when asked how he thought the team recovered from the mistakes, Hansen still realizes that a winning team needs praise.

“Five or six…we scored a few tries anyway. That’s not a bad day at the office.”

He is certainly right [although they only scored five Steve]. The World Champions did some nice things, and the first half allowed them four quality tries. And under pressure, the composure was more assured than in Brisbane, so some positives come from it — but the same errors are often repeated.

Kieran Read put it another way. He told reporters “it’s a hard thing in sport when your up by that many points, to mentally keep yourself at a high standard. And so we probably dropped off…a touch.”

The pause was obvious, as the All Blacks have done the same in several matches over 2017. If the mental edge that they so once relied on is being eroded by constant changes in players, then that is a concern.

Not a touch of concern, but plenty of concern from fans looking ahead to bigger challengers in 12 months time.

Against England, at Twickenham, Under Pressure, How Will Players React?

Lessons continue to be learned. Hansen said that the Stade de France atmosphere would have been a good experience for many less experienced players. The stadium size is similar to Twickenham–the fixture where New Zealand will face England in 12 months time. Will this side have discovered the continuity required to win on the biggest stages?

In saying that, basic mistakes from All Blacks do show little change from earlier efforts, and they might well be seen as a lack of precision. Both Beauden Barrett and Read had two turnovers conceded each–rare from such celebrated sportsmen, but they all add to the issues.

On a positive note, Barrett did kick 5/5 conversions and one penalty. That strike rate would have impressed his doubters. His number ten performance was a step above that of his nearest rival Lima Sopoaga. He didn’t get flustered–but he did not inject himself nearly as much as fans know he can. At Twickenham, kickable points are important.

But, discipline again was cause for concern. Ofa Tu’ungafasi was foolish to be penalized for a blatant off the ball infringement, and fortunately the games outcome was not (yet again) impacted by a Sonny Bill Williams card. This time it was yellow, and left him red faced.

Referee Interpretation on Penalty Try Correct, if Not Contentious

Last Word on Rugby viewed the series of decisions like any fan might. Bizarre; that a fully professional rugby player would act so blindly. So to get an official’s reaction, Scott MacLean (our resident referee) has cast his eye over the incident.

On the Williams yellow card/penalty try, MacLean opines that “in the end, referee (Angus) Gardner got the call correct. Fore mostly, you can’t do what Williams did in rugby union.

  • Under Law: 10.2(c) – a player must not intentionally knock, place, push or throw
    the ball with his arm or hand into touch, touch-in-goal, or over the
    dead ball line’

“That law further specifically states that a penalty try must be awarded if the offence prevents a try being scored.

“The contentious piece was what transpired next. Prompted by seeing the footage on the stadium big screens, Gardner then chose to consult with his TMO Rowan Kitt. It appears for the two officials to get to the decision of a penalty try, the pair have used the ‘invisible man’ approach.

“Essentially by committing an act of foul play, Williams is removed from the equation –
it makes no allowance for the event, he performed a legal act – and that without him, French winger Yoann Huget would have probably scored on his own. On all those points, the ultimate decision was defensible if contrentious.”

Note Worthy Points Taken

While the law governs the game, two points are note worthy; (1) Williams should have caught the ball. His coaching will have discussed in-goal options, so at some stage the coaches should look inwardly. (2) the French were on the offensive, and the benefit of the doubt goes to the attacking team.

A french player was also shown a yellow card, for infringement at the scrum. That seemed to be a ploy, and it was cynical. By the end of the game, Angus Gardner had the separation he was after–but wouldn’t it make for a good contest if it happened all match?

French Decisions May Have Slowed Points Collection

“Why did they choose the penalty kick?” was the question from the commentary booth. It must have been one in both coaches boxes too, as a possible seven points was not considered in the 42nd minute.

Anthony Belleau (see below image) made the call to sink a penalty, when from the opening whistle of the second half, France were on attack. They had space and time, so must have been advised by their coaching group ‘to collect points’. It was poor advice, and like Argentina did in New Plymouth, it let the All Blacks off the hook.

Anthony Belleau of France reacts during the test match between France and New Zealand at Stade de France on November 11, 2017. (Photo by Aurelien Meunier/Getty Images)

Fatally, they made the same call in the 52nd minute. Only increasing their score to 18-31, which meant they had to score two tries – but had already turned down chances. No, it was poor decision making, possibly due to a less confidence in their set-piece than New Zealand had.

France led all nations in offloads, so would have been under the impression that they could challenge from the oppositions mistakes. And yes, the All Blacks made them, but not as many as to offer France opportunity. So twice, with field position, they made poor choices.

Kieran Read Leaves the Field – Mounting Injury Niggles

In a first; since his wrist injury required surgery, captain Kieran Read left the field. A change which has never been instigated due to substitutions, but a hamstring issue has seen him leave the field. Replaced by Matt Todd, who brought over 100 caps of Super Rugby experience to fill the gap.

If his injury, plus the illness of Liam Squire and the removal from the tour of Jerome Kaino continue, the number eight position might be up for grabs. Akira Ioane has been brought in from the Maori All Blacks, but is raw, inexperienced and possibly a long shot at being offered a test start.

But it must now become a contingency plan. And like other key men; Ryan Crotty, Sam Whitelock and Aaron Smith, whom would all be sadly missed if succumbing to injury. Fingers will be crossed in New Zealand over the next two weeks.

First-choice hooker Dane Coles is off for a scan on his left knee. Leaving the field, if this is another name added to the long list of casualties for 2017, then at least there are four hookers within the squad currently . It includes Nathan Harris and Asafo Aumua. Gladly, cover is available…but not gladly wished for.

France v New Zealand – Conclusion

The final word goes to Steve Hansen. In showing his disappointment, he is aware of the realities of winning away from home. The All Blacks retain the Dave Gallaher Trophy, and that was pleasing. “That’s an outcome of getting things right on the park isn’t it.

“We did enough the win the game, and did it pretty easily in the end–I guess). There’s just a few things to sort out.”

Typically non-descriptive but on point. The frailties are there, and winning can look easy even when you make basic mistakes. It is the learnings and the alterations made, which are the sign of a champion side. The one that faces Scotland may well come up with a better outcome, as they look to improve on a fair 18-38 win in Paris.

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The All Blacks squad now travel to Edinburgh, with the French Selection and staff heading to Lyon for the rare midweek fixture.

“Main photo credit”
Embed from Getty Images

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