France 40, New Zealand 25
A moment of genius by Romain Ntamack overturned a New Zealand fightback and returned France on course to a stunning 40-25 victory in their gripping rugby test yesterday [Macau time].
The All Blacks responded to a wretched first half by punching in three tries in 12 minutes to trail France only 27-25 going into the last quarter.
They swept back downfield and kicked the ball into the French in-goal. Ntamack gathered and appeared trapped, but he slipped past Richie Mo’unga and Jordie Barrett and burst upfield in a counterattack that almost ended with a team try.
The outcome was even better. All Blacks No. 8 Ardie Savea was sin-binned for a cynical foul, and the faultless Melvyn Jaminet kicked over the penalty for 30-25 and some breathing space.
Ntamack was brought off to a huge ovation. He had been restored to flyhalf from the midfield in the previous autumn wins against Argentina and Georgia, and had his best game since he made his name at the 2019 Rugby World Cup.
“It was just as the All Blacks were getting back in the game and came during a moment of pressure for us,” Galthie said of Ntamack’s escape.
“We had this game in mind as a moment of truth and everyone turned up for us tonight. The team lived up to what we promised ourselves.”
Ending a 14-match, 12-year losing streak to the All Blacks marked the biggest statement yet by a rapidly improving side Galthie is growing out of the French junior world champion teams of 2018 and 2019. Nine of France’s starting side were facing the All Blacks for the first time.
“We won in style, and it feels incredible,” scrumhalf and captain Antoine Dupont said. “We will remember this win for sure.”
France topped the All Blacks in Paris for the first time since 1973, and for the first time anywhere at home since 2000.
It was set up in a stunning first half as France scored two tries after barely 12 minutes.
Hooker Peato Mauvaka bundled over following a lineout maul, and France showed it wasn’t just powerful in the tight but lethal in open space when Ntamack ghosted inside three players with sidesteps from the right to go under the crossbar for another converted try.
Jaminet, a revelation from the summer tour of Australia, landed another excellent kick from wide left to make it 17 points to two Barrett penalties, then Gael Fickou and Ntamack combined to give winger Gabin Villiere a chance in the left corner. He was held up, but France won another lineout 10 meters out and Mauvaka steamed through in a maul. Mauvaka has five tries in three games.
New Zealand added Akira Ioane, Dane Coles and Sam Cane to wise up the pack, but they were overwhelmed. The All Blacks were nervy and sloppy and the French feasted on the errors. Under Dupont’s direction, they were relentless. France led 24-6, its biggest ever halftime lead against the All Blacks.
The new half brought new resolve, however, and after 102-cap scrumhalf Aaron Smith almost scored, Barrett got over in the left then botched his conversion.
Moments later, center Rieko Ioane sprinted clear from halfway for a converted try and the lead was slashed to six points.
The speed of New Zealand’s pick-and-go’s was becoming hard to deal with and France was flagging when Savea went over for a converted score in the 59th.
New Zealand had all the momentum, but moments later Ntamack stole it, Savea was in the sin-bin and the All Blacks’ comeback was effectively over.
For the first time since 1994, the All Blacks lost consecutive games to European teams a week after Ireland topped them 29-20 in Dublin in another inspirational display.
They and France are destined to meet again at the Stade de France on the opening night of the 2023 Rugby World Cup. Thanks to Saturday night, the French will be brimming with confidence. JEROME PUGMIRE, PARIS, MDT/AP