WELLINGTON – France coach Jacques Brunel was unsure whether Benjamin Fall deserved his red card and lamented his side's wasteful finishing after their 26-13 defeat to the All Blacks on Saturday.
France played most of the game with only 14 men, yet managed to finish within 13 points of an All Blacks side that thrashed them 52-11 in Auckland last week. The second Test in Wellington swung in the All Blacks' favour when French fullback Fall was sent off for taking out Beauden Barrett in the air in the 12th minute.
Even the All Blacks argued it was accidental and Fall should have been allowed to play on, but under rugby's rigid rules it had to be a red card. Despite being down on numbers, France remained competitive particularly in the second half and had they not botched two try-scoring opportunities they may have pulled off a shock win over the world's top-ranked side.
"We need to improve our efficiency as we get close to the try line," Brunel said, lamenting the lost opportunities.
"It happened two or three times and against the All Blacks you have to turn these opportunities into tries."
Geoffrey Doumayrou lost the ball diving for a try, and Pierre Bourgarit was penalised for a double movement to reach the try line. Brunel was not prepared to discuss the red card, with Fall to appear before a judicial panel on Sunday, but he wondered whether a yellow may have been more appropriate.
"He was late and when you're late it's a fault. In that case a yellow card is warranted but a red, I don't know," Brunel said.
But the French did take positives from closing the gap on the All Blacks, with captain Mathieu Bastareaud urging his side to carry the momentum into next week's third Test in Dunedin.
"I am very proud but there is one match to go," Bastareaud said.
"We know what we can do. We are French and sometimes there is this euphoria but we need to remember this was a defeat.
"On Monday, we have to get back into training with a willingness to win the game in Dunedin."