Cruden Helps All Blacks To Tense Win Over France

by
Reuters
Aaron Cruden had a mixed night with his boot but managed to slot 13 points for a scratchy All Blacks side as they held off a combative France team 23-13 in the first game of their three-test series at Eden Park on Saturday.

All Blacks

* All Blacks continue winning record at Eden Park

* Both sides waste scoring opportunities

Aaron Cruden had a mixed night with his boot but managed to slot 13 points for a scratchy All Blacks side as they held off a combative France team 23-13 in the first game of their three-test series at Eden Park on Saturday.

The All Blacks, who had not lost at the Auckland venue since France coach Phillipe Saint Andre sparked "the try from the end of the world" in 1994, scored two counter-attacking tries late in the first half that proved the difference in a match that failed to reach the heights expected.

Both sides, who are rebuilding ahead of the 2015 World Cup, wasted several golden opportunities to score, most notably France number eight Louis Picamoles who dropped the ball with the line open following a devastating break from Florian Fritz.

The All Blacks two tries to scrumhalf Aaron Smith and openside flanker Sam Cane in the final 10 minutes of the first spell typified the match.

Both sides were well organised in defence but also fell off several tackles when they ran back on the counter-attack with the field more open and defence unorganised.

Wesley Fofana's try for France early in the first half, after the visitors had withstood a high tempo, was also scored on the counter following a break by Fritz when Sam Cane and Ma'a Nonu collided and opened a gap for the Toulouse centre to ghost through.

Neither side also capitalised from their field position, with France camped near the All Blacks line for several minutes in the second half only to be thwarted by a desperate defensive performance and a series of penalties at the scrum.

"We know that it was ugly at times," New Zealand coach Steve Hansen told reporters of his impression of the match.

"What I liked about the game was when we were in our 22 for quite a sustained period, and we had a young side out there, they kept their composure.

"That's the type of player we need to win big test matches. There was no panic, guys just went and did their job."

EARLY LEAD

Fofana's try had given the visitors a 7-0 lead before Cruden slotted his first penalty, after two previous misses, before the All Blacks struck back in the final 10 minutes of the first half on the counter-attack.

Scrumhalf Aaron Smith finished off a searing break by winger Ben Smith to give the home side a 10-7 lead before Maxime Machenaud slotted a penalty to make it 10-10.

Cane then crossed for a 38th-minute try when the All Blacks forced a turnover and Nonu breached the defence and Cruden's conversion gave the All Blacks a 17-10 lead at the break.

France flyhalf Camille Lopez, who took over the goalkicking when Machenaud limped off early in the second half, slotted a penalty that rallied the visitors.

A number of penalties at the breakdown and scrum, however, swung it back to the All Blacks, with Cruden pushing the lead out to seven points again with his second penalty.

Picamoles then dropped the ball with the line open after another break from Fritz and neither side were able to capitalise as the match was played in the middle of the field before Cruden slotted his third penalty.

"We were close to the All Blacks, but we made too many mistakes, lost too many balls in the contact and they got a lot of opportunity due to our mistakes," France captain Thierry Dusautoir said.

"We didn't keep control of the ball and that is very important that when you have the opportunity to score against them, you do it."