SAINT-DENIS, France (AP) – New Zealand beat France 38-18 for an 11th straight time, scoring four first-half tries and withstanding a strong comeback after the break on Saturday.
France has not beaten New Zealand at home since winning in Marseille in 2000, and anywhere since an away success in Dunedin in 2009.
But at least coach Guy Noves’ experimental side, featuring four players on debut and an inventive halves pairing, gave the All Blacks a bit of a fright in the second half until right winger Waisake Naholo grabbed his second try of the game in the final seconds.
New Zealand routed France 62-13 in the 2015 Rugby World Cup quarterfinals and another hammering looked odds-on after hooker Dane Coles, Naholo, centre Ryan Crotty and flanker Sam Cane scored tries — all converted by flyhalf Beauden Barrett— to lead 31-5 at halftime.
Crotty’s try gave him the distinction of scoring the 2,000th in New Zealand history.
France’s only first-half riposte was a try from right winger Teddy Thomas. But after receiving a penalty try conceded by Sonny Bill Williams, who was sin-binned at the start of the second half, the French battled gamely back to 31-18 with half an hour left.
Thomas then had a try ruled out in the right corner, after a video review, as the momentum briefly threatened to turn under drizzly skies at Stade de France.
France showed its intent by meeting New Zealand’s haka challenge, marching forward with arms linked before stopping in their tracks after a few metres.
Burly center Mathieu Bastareaud, recalled for the first time since that World Cup humiliation two years ago, was in tears during the anthem, “La Marseillaise,” and made a thumping early tackle on Naholo. But it only briefly stemmed the wave of attacks about to land on the French defence.
The first breakthrough came in the ninth minute.
Scrumhalf Aaron Smith peeled off the back of a scrum and fed the irrepressible Barrett, who gave Coles an easy 10th international try. Barrett kicks made it 10-0.
After left winger Rieko Ioane was held up just short, Smith recycled the ball quickly to Barrett, and he flipped a looping pass over to Naholo as if executing a move on the training ground. Barrett’s conversion from wide right trickled over for 17-0 with less than 20 minutes gone.
The French hit back via Bastareaud, center Geoffrey Doumayrou and fullback Nans Ducuing, who combined to send Thomas leaping over into the right corner. But the hard-won momentum was thrown away after prop Rabah Slimani was sin-binned near the end of the first half for repeated fouling.
The All Blacks took full advantage. Crotty latched onto Williams’ grubber-kick behind the defence. Then, seconds before the interval, Cane crossed after a break by Ioane down the left.
Flyhalf Anthony Belleau, one of the new French caps, landed a penalty just after the restart and the penalty try came moments later. Williams was sin-binned for infringing on left winger Yoann Huget as he chased a high kick into the left corner.
Belleau’s second penalty kick punished another New Zealand error in the scrum.
Roared on by a crowd gaining belief, Thomas almost grabbed his second try on a fast break, but his right foot touched out of bounds just before scoring.
The All Blacks were up against it for a while, but the French did not use the width enough and most of the attacks hit the tough centre of New Zealand’s defensive line and petered out.
Naholo sprinted clear down the right for their fifth try as New Zealand avoided being blanked in the second half for the first time in six years ago. Inevitably, the ice-cool Barrett made it six kicks out of six and 13 points for the night.