New Zealand keep perfect 2013 record with France win
PARIS (Reuters) - World champions New Zealand earned their 12th victory in as many games in 2013 by beating France 26-19 and handing the hosts an eighth straight defeat against the All Blacks at the Stade de France on Saturday.
New Zealand relied on sturdy defence and Dan Carter's boot before tries from winger Charles Piutau and Kieran Read sent them clear, only for France to threaten a stunning comeback.
Carter slotted four penalties and a conversion and his replacement Aaron Cruden kicked a conversion, while France's points came from Morgan Parra's kicks and Brice Dulin's try.
New Zealand, who started a tour that will take them to England and Ireland on November 16 and 24 with a 54-6 hammering of Japan last weekend, did not exactly shine but produced some neat rugby throughout.
"They are two proud nations and there was no quarter given today," New Zealand captain Richie McCaw said in a pitch-side interview.
All Blacks coach Steve Hansen gave credit to France for pushing his side to the limit.
"(The players) had to show resilience, composure, patience and at times deal with the frustration," he told a news conference.
"The French played particularly well. Tonight is a night you understand why they call it a test match. It was a test of our resolve."
France, who will face Tonga next Saturday and South Africa the following weekend, enjoyed some decent spells of possession in the first half but lacked sharpness in the decisive moments of the game.
"We came really close but they were more efficient. Hats off to them," said France captain Thierry Dusautoir.
Manager Philippe Saint-Andre said his team had expected more from the match.
"We had not prepared (just) to play New Zealand, but to beat them," he told a news conference. "We lacked sharpness. We should have been ahead at halftime."
France were clearly not helped by the fact that scrumhalf Parra and flyhalf Remi Tales were paired for the first time as Saint-Andre continues to tinker with his halfbacks since taking over from Marc Lievremont after the 2011 World Cup.
New Zealand were denied an early try after a video replay ruled Cory Jane had dropped the ball as he was tackled by Maxime Medard before touching down on the right corner.
France took the lead in the 10th minute thanks to a Parra penalty after McCaw had failed to release the ball.
However, a couple of routine penalties by Carter soon put New Zealand in front.
France had their first decent run towards the line in the 20th minute but lost the ball in the All Blacks' 22.
With the French scrum gaining the upper hand, 'Les Bleus' had another penalty, which Parra converted, only for Carter to put his side ahead again with a 48-metre kick.
New Zealand's defence was put to the test when France made some serious drives by the five-metre line with Medard, Tales and Wesley Fofana looking close to diving over.
Their only reward for their spell of possession, however, was a penalty converted by Parra.
With the visitors on the back foot, France piled on the pressure and the All Blacks were penalised again for an offside, but this time Parra could not convert.
Parra and Carter traded penalties early in the second half before the first try was scored by New Zealand when Piutau knocked ahead Ben Smith's low kick and touched down.
Carter converted before being replaced by Aaron Cruden, who added extra points of his own after Piutau brilliantly flicked the ball back to Read for the number eight to go over in the 67th minute.
France reduced the arrears when Dulin touched down after a fine pick-and-go phase to the line.
The Stade de France crowd roared in anticipation when the forwards bulldozed past the line in the 73rd minute, but the ball had clearly not been grounded, leaving Les Bleus still waiting for their first win against the All Blacks since 2009.
(Reporting by Julien Pretot; Editing by Alison Wildey/Peter Rutherford)
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