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All Blacks vs France: Opinion

10:48:00, Mon 13 Nov 2017 Jim Kayes 171111Francev All Blacks _102

In 1985 when John Kirwan did it against Canterbury it was, for this Auckland boy, a glorious thing. JK batted the ball dead in the final minutes of Auckland's Ranfurly Shield challenge, knocking it into the crowd that had spilled into the in-goal area at Lancaster Park. He got away with it and the Shield moved north.

Sonny Bill Williams wasn't so lucky in Paris when he did the same thing, was penalised, sinbinned and had to watch as France were awarded a penalty try. It galvanised them as they scored 13 points to give the All Blacks a decent fright after they'd led 31-5 at halftime, the men in black holding on against a dominant French side to win 38-18 with a try to Waisake Naholo on fulltime adding a rather flattering margin.

Williams' error in whacking the ball dead has been blamed on ignorance of the rules which is both understable and odd. Understandable because rugby has more laws than Donald Trump has sent bizarre text messages; odd because he's played the game now long enough to know the rules.

But then it seems coach Steve Hansen knew what Williams did was illegal, but was surprised it warranted a penalty try. "In league you're allowed to smack it over the dead ball line," Hansen said. "I knew what Sonny did wasn't legal - that was rugby league. I knew that because a guy called John Kirwan did it in a Ranfurly Shield game years ago against Canterbury and got away with it... but we've moved on from that.

"I learnt a lesson from Foster that once you've committed an offence in the goal area it's like you're not there; they make you invisible and they felt the Frenchman was going to catch the ball so it was a try and you can't do too much about that."

There really should be no surprise at what happened in Paris. History has taught us to be wary of French revivals just as the All Blacks have struggled to produce a quality 80 minute performance all year. That they held on to win despite having very little ball in the second half against a French side that found its mojo, is testament to their tenacity.

But once again Hansen will be wondering how his team can be so good and so bad all in the space of one game. Think back to the first test against the Wallabies when they All Blacks led 40-6 at halftime only to allow the Wallabies back into the game before winning 54-34. You can count on just a few fingers the games they have dominated throughout. I reckon the first test against the Lions in Auckland and the thrashing of South Africa in Albany.

In Paris the All Blacks were very good in the first half. Beauden Barrett was in his pomp and Rieko Ioane was all class and showed the benefits of a wing who can score but who is also happy to create for others. But the wheels fell off at the break which can happen against France.

Remember 1999 and the World Cup semifinal when Jonah Lomu scored just after the break to give the All Blacks a 14-point lead only for France to then score 23 points and win? This is France. They can never be discounted. They should never be written off. Sure, they may get thrashed more often than they'd like, and yes they have now lost 18 of their last 20 tests against the All Blacks, but they will always have the ability to surprise.

The All Blacks did well to stem the French tide in the second half, to wrest a little bit of control back and to finish with a try to wing Waisake Naholo.
He and Ioane are all class with their work rates, speed, eye for the tryline and their passing skills which so often create tries for others. Ryan Crotty was also very good at centre, Sam Cane was immense with and without the ball, and skipper Kieran Read seems to be back to his best.The scrum, after an early wobble, improved throughout the first half and that continues to be encouraging considering how inexperienced the props are.

It's also important to remember the All Blacks won - and by 20 points. That can, at times, be forgotten when it has been a patchy performance.
And it's not a bad thing that the All Blacks have been reminded, yet again, that composure, a low error count and good discipline is important in every test match and especially against France.