The All Blacks managed to cling on in an error-riddled performance to clinch a 24-9 victory over France in New Plymouth yesterday to complete a clean sweep of the three-Test series.
The score, in what was a messy game, was blown out by a try to hometown hero Beauden Barrett on the stroke of fulltime.
Barrett, who came on as a late replacement, brought a brief spark to a game that was dominated by kicking from both sides, particularly in the first half, and unforced handling errors.
“It wasn’t our best,” All Blacks coach Steve Hansen said after the final whistle as he reviewed how his new intergrated running-kicking game plan went askew.
“We’ve just got to tidy up all aspects in our game and just get better at right across the board,” he said.
The All Blacks scored the only tries in the match — by Barrett and Ben Smith just before halftime — with Dan Carter adding the extra points from four penalties and a conversion.
Jean-Marc Doussain kicked two penalties and Florian Fritz landed a drop goal for France, who led 3-0 early and again 9-8 just after halftime.
France coach Philippe Saint-Andre believed the final scoreline was a “harsh” reflection on the way his side competed for most of the game.
“To fight and carry on and have very good periods is very important, but when we switched off against New Zealand at the end of the first half and at the end of the game we conceded a lot of points.”
Hansen had demanded a continued improvement from the 23-13 “ugly” first Test win and while the 30-0 second Test victory was a step forward it was two steps backwards in the third.
All Blacks wings Smith and Rene Ranger, who always threatened with the ball in hand, were too often stranded in open space as dropped passes denied them possession.
France had an edge in the scrums, where props Dominic Mas and Thomas Domingo both won penalties as they buckled the All Blacks eight, and easily read the All Blacks formula of using heavyweight forwards to batter a route up the middle.
Saint-Andre would also be satisfied with the work of backrower Antonie Claassen and halves Doussain and Remi Tales.
The crucial 8-9-10 triumvirate started with only six Tests between them yet were among the stars of the French side and held their own against Kieran Read, Piri Weepu and Dan Carter with a combined total of 214 Tests.
France gave the All Blacks a fright in the opening play when a Carter clearing kick was charged down, but the opportunity to attack from close range went begging when the French backs were caught offside.
While they could not crack the All Blacks defense with their sustained early pressure they scored first from the Fritz drop goal.
The All Blacks leveled with the first Carter penalty and five minutes before the break they took the lead for the first time when Smith scored in a frantic Tales tackle.
France immediately struck back with a Doussain penalty, his first success in three attempts and the All Blacks went into halftime with a slender 8-6 lead.
Doussain landed a third penalty immediately after the break for France to regain the lead before the All Blacks slowly started to gain the upper hand.
Carter slammed over three more penalties, the last of them from 46m when Yoann Maestri was yellow carded for a ruck indiscretion, and converted the Barrett try to close the match.