WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) — New Zealand overcame a spirited France team reduced to 14 men after only 12 minutes to win the second test 26-13 on Saturday and took an insurmountable 2-0 lead in the three-test series.
For the second straight week, a test match between the traditional rivals was effectively decided by a card against a French player.
But while the yellow card that left France with 14 players for 10 minutes in the second half of the first test was contentious, there was no question about the decision of Australian referee Angus Gardiner to show a red card to France fullback Benjamin Fall.
Fall stepped under All Blacks flyhalf Beauden Barrett as he leapt high to catch the ball. Barrett was upended by Fall's shoulder, pivoted in the air and landed heavily on his head. He left the field, failed a head injury assessment and took no further part in the game.
There was clearly no malice or even intent in Fall's action. He argued his eyes were on the ball and that he lost sight of Barrett. But the rules left Gardiner no room for leniency: Fall stepped into Barrett's "safe zone", his action caused the flyhalf to land on his head and the only remedy allowed was a red card.
While France capitulated after losing lock Paul Gabrillagues to a yellow card in the first test and went on to a 52-11 defeat, it played with spirit under a much greater handicap on Saturday. It held the All Blacks to 14-6 until a minute before halftime when a counter-attacking try to fullback Jordie Barrett gave New Zealand a 21-6 lead.
New Zealand managed only one more try in the second half, a second to Jordie Barrett, and France scored one of its own, to replacement Cedate Gomes Sa in injury time.
The All Blacks stuttered through a first half in which France had the majority of possession but scored tries through prop Joe Moody, winger Ben Smith and Jordie Barrett. They managed only one more try in an error-strewn second half in which France competed and tackled heroically.
"I asked the team to show heart when we were a man down and it was a great effort from the boys," France captain Mathieu Bastareaud said. "At halftime I called on my team to show even more heart and that was what we did."
With Fall gone from fullback there was a major hole in the French defense, which they plugged through gritty effort. Scrumhalf Morgan Parra was at his best, scouting back in defense and backrowers Kevin Gourdon, Kelian Galletier and Mathieu Babillot were magnificent.
The All Blacks were unable to gain any sort of momentum against dogged French defense. They made continuous handling and tactical mistakes and their discipline was lacking as they gave up 14 penalties.
"I think if you look at the French first, they showed up and took the game to us," All Blacks captain Sam Whitelock said. "They were a man down early but it didn't affect the way they played."
The French tried to slow the game down to diminish their disadvantage and they had some success in doing so as Gardiner allowed them to swarm over the top of rucks.
New Zealand took 14 minutes to break down their defense in the second half and, when they did so, it was through two incisions by replacement flyhalf Damian McKenzie who created a second try for Jordie Barrett.
The All Blacks were also reduced to 14 men in the second half by a yellow card against replacement scrumhalf T.J. Perenara for a professional foul, a mistake by Gardiner who failed to recognize Perenara's right to play the ball before a ruck had formed.