New Zealand vs France 24-9 – Yarrow Stadium, New Plymouth
Les Bleus, or the Tricolors, whatever you want to call them made a tough game of it, even though the All Blacks had already won the series. It was a tough series for France, but it shows just how far ahead the current All Black team has begun pulling away from our rivals.
Ma’a Nonu was in good form, busting through the French line. Meanwhile, I had been rooting for Rene Ranger to get a start. His chance came, only for the French game to frustrate his style. He’s definitely worth giving another chance as a starter, though I think it’s a shame he can’t budge Conrad Smith for position at center. It will all be irrelevant soon as Ranger’s off to France for three seasons.
Dan Carter, finally back in the Starting XV, eventually found his rhythm with the boot, but will need another game or two to sharpen his once lethal skills. Carter took a slide through the advertising paint and ended up looking like a Celtic warrior covered in blue woad.
Israel Dagg is always smiling like an excited dog whenever he has the rugby ball. I’m not a huge fan of Dagg after his stupid comments on Twitter, yet the newspapers seem to love his grinning mug.
Though Ben Smith scored what I would call a slightly dubious Try. Despite this, Ben Smith is certainly the best all-round All Black of the Steinlager Series.
Probably the most impressive highlight of the game was Beauden Barrett’s repeat from last week. In the second test, Barrett came on in the last 5 minutes and scored an amazing Try. This week he came on in the 77th minute, scoring a spectacular Try in front of his home crowd in just 3 minutes! The moment was not lost on his team mates who were quick to join him in celebration of a try that was the icing on the cake of a great clean sweep of the series.
New Zealand 30-0 France. Christchurch.
Kieran Read’s 50th test cap. The All Black’s 500th international. Kieran Read makes a break half way up the field after a missed French penalty kick bounces off the post into the All Blacks hands. One of the highlights of the game from a truly exceptional player.
All Black’s living legend, Dan Carter, injured but still able to be the water boy for his under study, Aaron Cruden. Crudes has been fantastic and I think the New Zealand public can relax when Hansen hands him the keys to the car.
Ben Smith calls it finishing the work that the others started, but we just call it another Ben Smith try! He is on fire!
Beauden Barrett comes in as a replacement in the 75th minute, with 5 to go, and scores a try. Class.
Sam Cane, the understudy of legend Richie McCaw learns a lot in this game, but has some strong moments, like his charge down of Michalak’s drop goal attempt. People are scrutinizing Cane more than they need to in light of Richie McCaw being the best No. 7 in the world. I think Cane has got exactly what the team needs, along with his own flashes of brilliance that can only increase with more time on the pitch.
Sam Whitelock… best Lock in the world? Possibly, though I still think Brodie Retallick is almost parallel. Perhaps it helps that Sam’s position is in his own name. Maybe he should change it to Greatlock?
Final score New Zealand 23-13 France
Kieran Read’s first cap as All Black Captain on home turf (his first time as captain was against Italy late 2012). He is a born leader. I can not wait to see more of him in a role that clearly means so much to him. Read is fearsome on the field, but one of the warmest and gentlest men off it. Perhaps the perfect All Black.
Meanwhile, Ben Smith is just as electric for the All Blacks as he was for the Highlanders in Super Rugby. He needs to be a permanent starter. Confining him to be an impact player is just silly. He’s been in the shadows as a reserve for too long but he’s made it impossible for people to ignore him or confuse him with Conrad and Aaron. I’d personally switch him to Full Back, replacing the shaky Israel Dagg. I’d then put Rene Ranger on the right wing.
As for impact players, few men can make an afro look as cool as Rene Ranger while bursting through the French. If he takes up his contract to play in the French Top 14 then the All Blacks are losing a serious weapon and a big ball of charisma. We need to make an offer to the guy that he can’t refuse and keep him in New Zealand.