SAINT-DENIS, France (AP) — New Zealand absorbed long spells of pressure to turn over France 24-19 in clinical style at the Stade de France on Saturday.
A year after being humiliated by the All Blacks 62-13 at the Rugby World Cup, the French put the world champions on the back foot for sustained periods and kept their hopeful fans on tenterhooks to the end. But most of their possession and territory were rendered sterile against a resolute New Zealand defense.
"Cold-blood killers," was how France captain Guilhem Guirado described the All Blacks.
"Tonight we are very disappointed, almost disgusted. We are on the right path, but it still makes two consecutive losses."
He was referring to last week, when they let Australia off the hook 25-23.
France scored one try an hour in, while the All Blacks produced three, and finished a gritty match on attack. They completed their season with 13 wins and one historic loss to Ireland, and all their trophies retained.
"This time of year is a tough time; we went around the world twice in nine weeks, nine time changes in seven games, so the boys did well," New Zealand coach Steve Hansen said.
The All Blacks started slow and relied on two moments of brilliance to make the difference in the first half through tries by backs Israel Dagg and Beauden Barrett, the world player of the year who tallied 14 points.
"I'm still very proud of my players," coach Guy Noves said. "They had been criticized for their lack of physical engagement against Australia. The New Zealanders were better tonight but I'm not sure they have been enjoying themselves a lot during that game."
France, turned over three times in the first five minutes, was punished on a counterattack in the seventh. A Barrett crosskick was caught by winger Julian Savea, and fullback Israel Dagg finished the move.
"We felt we didn't play a lot of footy in that first half but we were quite excited about the possibilities with turnovers," Barrett said. "We felt if we could make the most of them and build some phases we could get some plums but we were made to work really hard."
France unsettled the All Black with offloads and deep runs, and pegged them in their 22 for most of the half, but when New Zealand broke out it scored, and Barrett added a penalty for 10-0.
A Maxime Machenaud penalty reduced the gap but the Tricolors again failed to finish a nice buildup around the half hour mark when playmaker Wesley Fofana threw a forward pass. Machenaud added another penalty to go into the half 10-6 down.
Barrett hurt France's morale at the start of the second half when he intercepted 90 meters out and converted his own try for 17-6.
Baptiste Serin, who replaced Machenaud at scrumhalf, slotted a penalty, but he was brushed aside by Charlie Faumuina as the prop charged to the tryline. At 24-9 with a quarter to go, New Zealand looked to be out of reach.
From a scrum penalty, Serin tapped and his no-look reverse pass set up Picamoles to score. Serin converted and added a penalty with four minutes to go. France was within five, and enjoying rousing support, but the All Blacks pinned the home side in their half and ran out time.
It was their ninth straight win over France, their longest ever run. But it was hard work.
Hansen said: "It felt like the old French rugby team."