WELLINGTON – New Zealand beat France 26-13 to clinch their three-Test series in unconvincing fashion on Saturday after the luckless visitors had a man sent off on 12 minutes and saw two tries disallowed.
Benjamin Fall's early red card for a dangerous challenge on Beauden Barrett effectively sealed the defeat for France, who were smashed 52-11 in last week's opener in Auckland. But Les Bleus toughed it out and after turning at 21-6 down, they won the points battle in the second half, capped by substitute Cedate Gomes Sa's richly deserved try after the final siren.
France were leading 3-0 when Fall took out Beauden Barrett in mid-air and the All Blacks fly-half crashed head-first into the turf, later failing a concussion Test. Australian referee Angus Gardner produced the red card as France, who complained bitterly over a crucial yellow card in the opening Test, saw their hopes of an upset evaporate.
But they battled bravely, claiming 70 percent of possession in the second half of what was a messy, error-riddled game. Fall's departure had an immediate impact when All Blacks prop Joe Moody stood at first receiver in the next play and galloped 23 metres for a try.
In the opening exchanges, the French backed their attacking instincts to expose holes in the All Blacks' inside channels.Anthony Belleau and Kelian Galletier tormented the All Blacks, while Geoffrey Doumayrou all but scored when he lost the ball diving for the line.
But for all their enterprise, France only had a Morgan Parra penalty to show for their early domination and even before they were reduced to 14 men their lineouts and scrums were looking fragile.
Once Moody had put the All Blacks on the scoresheet, Ben Smith danced his way through some ineffectual defence to score their second try while Ryan Crotty, Rieko Ioane and Anton Lienert-Brown combined to put Jordie Barrett over on the stroke of half-time. Damian McKenzie, Beauden Barrett's replacement, converted all three tries.
But France refused to yield and they pressured the All Blacks throughout the second half, preventing them from unleashing the pace and accuracy that stunned the tourists a week ago.
The numbers evened out at 14 a side for 10 minutes just after the three-quarter mark when All Blacks replacement scrum-half TJ Perenara was yellow-carded. In his absence, France replacement hooker Pierre Bourgarit, on debut, crossed the line but was called back for a double movement.
The All Blacks' only points in the second half came with 21 minutes remaining when McKenzie weaved his way through to put Jordie Barrett over for his second try. It was courageous performance by France in which they won the admiration of the New Zealand crowd for the way they fought valiantly to stay in the game and controlled much of the second half.
There was also a degree of sympathy when Sam Cane, cast as a villain over a tackle in the first Test that left French wing Remy Gross with two facial fractures, escaped with only a penalty for a late charge on scrum-half Parra.