DUNEDIN, NEW ZEALAND - Rieko Ioane scored a dazzling second-half hat-trick as New Zealand punished France 49-14 to complete a clean sweep of their three-test series in Dunedin on Saturday.
With both sides relishing attacking on a firm surface in an enclosed stadium, there were nine tries, seven for the All Blacks — including Ioane’s treble and two to Damian McKenzie.
But while the scoreline was “very pleasing” for coach Steve Hansen, it was not the overall performance he wanted from a new-look line up that was fortunate to be ahead 21-14 at halftime.
“We just need to get better right across the park,” he said.
“The first six or seven minutes we were under the pump and right up until halftime it could have gone either way.”
French coach Jacques Brunel believed McKenzie’s first try, just before the break, should have been disallowed as Irish referee John Lacey blocked Baptiste Serin from tackling the fly-half.
But Brunel admitted that when the All Blacks stepped up a gear in the second half, France had few answers.
“Really, at halftime the score could have been equal with the referee getting in the way for that try,” he said.
“But in the second half, the All Blacks raised the speed of the game. We tried to keep up with them but perhaps we should have played at our own pace.”
It rounded off a torrid tour for France, which has had little luck with referees after a controversial yellow card in its 52-11 first-test defeat and an early red card, later rescinded, in last week’s 26-13 loss.
McKenzie converted all the All Blacks’ tries to finish with a match haul of 24 points, while Ioane took his try haul to 16 from 16 tests.
Despite mass changes in the All Blacks team, quick feet and outrageous offloads produced a helter-skelter game in which France was competitive for the first half-hour when the scores were tied 14-14.
But after McKenzie’s first try — helped by Lacey’s accidental obstruction — put the All Blacks up 21-14 at the turn, France was unable to find a way back.
Hansen was vindicated in his decision to make 10 changes and blood four new test players, with next year’s World Cup in mind.
His aim was to build depth and the match-day 23 included only six players who featured in the quarterfinal win over France in the World Cup three years ago.
But it was France which made the blitz start that stand-in captain Morgan Parra had called for, after a well-timed interception by Kelian Galletier took “Les Bleus” deep into New Zealand territory.
Parra went off with a head knock as France repeatedly pounded the line until his replacement scrum-half, Serin, dummied his way over the line.
However, as in the first two tests, the All Blacks responded immediately to the early French salvoes, firing back with two quick tries.
The first was to fullback Ben Smith after the hosts turned down a shot at goal in favour of a lineout, and the second went to Matt Todd from a lineout drive.
France replied with a well-taken try to Wesley Fofana as it dominated possession, and the powerful work of Galletier and Kevin Gourdon allowed the Fofana and Remi Lamerat partnership to get in behind the All Blacks.
It took New Zealand’s new-look backline until the second half to achieve the same penetration, with McKenzie scoring his second try five minutes after the restart.
Despite McKenzie’s points tally, he had a mixed game in his first-start at fly-half. He had problems with his tactical kicking and passing but when he ran, his acceleration and body swerve baffled the French.