All Blacks make French pay after refereeing howler
A REFEREEING howler from Englishman Luke Pearce broke the resistance of the French and the All Blacks took full advantage to register a comprehensive 52-11 win in their first Test of the year at Eden Park, Auckland.
Locked up at 11-11 after 51 minutes, Pearce wrongly sent French lock Paul Gabrillagues to the sin bin for what he thought was a high tackle on All Blacks centre Ryan Crotty.
But replays revealed a different picture, with Gabrillagues not making any contact with the neck or head of Crotty.
Making the blunder even worse, Pearce - refereeing his first top tier Test - didn't consult with his TMO, Australian George Ayoub.
The All Blacks immediately took advantage of the extra man and scored three tries during the lock's 10 minutes off the field.
Rubbing more salt into the wound, All Blacks flanker Sam Cane later made direct contact with a Frenchman's head but was only penalised.
All up, the All Blacks ran in seven second-half tries after the yellow card incident with Rieko Ioane scoring a brace, while Codie Taylor, Ben Smith, Beauden Barrett and replacements Damian McKenzie, Ngani Laumape and Ardie Savea also scored.
The margin would have been even greater had Barrett kicked straight, with the world player of the year landing just three conversions.
Interim All Blacks captain Sam Whitelock was a relieved man at fulltime after being tested for large parts of the match.
"They've been a great defensive side, they showed that in the Six Nations, and we felt that early," Whitelock said.
"We'll have a good week this week looking at what went well and what we need to improve on.
"I'm just happy with how the boys fronted."
French captain Mathieu Bastareaud said his side were shocked to lead at halftime and needed to be mentally stronger after the setback.
"It was very difficult after the yellow card," Bastareaud said.
"They accelerate and it hurt.
"It was difficult in defence.
"We did a terrible mistake in defence.
"We have to believe in us.
"I think we were too surprised to lead after 40 minutes.
"We need to work on that for the next game next week."
Few gave the French, ranked No 8 in the world, a chance of beating the back-to-back world champions, but it was the visitors who struck first after Jordie Barrett's missed shot at goal, with Remy Grosso intercepting to score in the seventh minute.
Beauden Barrett got the home side on the board five minutes later.
France restored their five point lead midway through the first half when halfback Morgan Parra banged over a penalty from 40 metres out.
But the All Blacks' hit back was emphatic, as the Barrett brothers - Scott, Jordie and Beauden - combined to set up the latter in the corner.
France took the lead into the break though, as Parra knocked over another penalty from past halfway.
But the boot of Barrett saw the All Blacks once again lock things up in the 48th minute.
The game, however, turned on its head when Gabrillagues was sent from the field.
An intercept from French winger Teddy Thomas stopped the first attacking raid from the All Blacks, but there was no stopping hooker Codie Taylor a minute later who scored out wide.
The All Blacks then showed how lethal they are, fielding a ball inside their own half before launching a stunning movement across the field which saw Crotty burst down the right hand touchline and finished with Ben Smith scoring two minutes later.
Parra then missed the opportunity to slow the home side's momentum, but pushed his penalty attempt wide.
Making matters worse, Ioane scored his first and when Gabrillagues returned his side had conceded three tries over the course of the 10 minutes to lead 30-11.
The introduction of McKenzie midway through the second half only added to the potency of the home side's attack and the livewire back split the French defence after bursting onto a superb ball from Taylor.
Moments later the smiling assassin turned provider, passing to Laumape who bulldozed his way over the line to continue the second half massacre.
France's second half pain continued until the final whistle as Savea was awarded a try on the stroke of full time despite clearly being tackled before getting up to play again.
The second Test is at Westpac Stadium in Wellington on Saturday.