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All Blacks level series in slug fest

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Sportal.co.nz     20 Jun 2009     Getty Images

The All Blacks forwards were a much more united combination, they needed to be in the conditions, and the French never looked like gaining the advantage from their rolling maul they achieved in the first Test.

However, the conditions ensured the All Blacks could never put a distance between themselves and the tourists and the game retained a degree of excitement that would not normally be warranted in the dreadful conditions.

Hooker and vice-captain Keven Mealamu had a fine game, tailor-made for the night. He was low slung in everything he did and made significant metres for the side. That resulted in New Zealand having the benefit of more front-foot ball. Lock Brad Thorn's work in the tight was backed by a superb cover defence game which more than once saved the All Blacks.

It was also a game where the two All Blacks halfbacks, starter Jimmy Cowan and replacement Piri Weepu, had significant roles to play with the accuracy of their kicks over the top, something they achieved with regular effect.

The game became a helter-skelter contest with huge gains to both teams against the run-of-play resulting from fumbles and failures to tidy ball on the ground. Wing Vincent Clerc almost scored on one occasion for France while All Blacks No.8 Kieran Read almost got across after another breakout.

It was like a skating rink as players from both sides lost their footing at crucial moments.

France found conditions more to its liking when playing with the wind at its back in the second half and wing Cedric Heymans blew the game apart with a spectacular 40m run along the sideline. He beat his opposite Cory Jane, comprehensively beat fullback Mils Muliaina and then headed the cover defence led by No.8 Kieran Read.

Moments later Muliaina kicked the ball out on the full and then missed a high kick before regaining his touch with a crunching defensive tackle on Heymans as he looked for a second try within five minutes.

Then it was Muliaina's reverse pass to Nonu that opened up another potential chance for New Zealand 12 minutes into the half but the French withstood a torried All Blacks assault.

New Zealand's initial reward was a 56th minute penalty goal to Donald and when he came on as a replacement Luke McAlister landed a 65th minute goal.

Clerc went close to scoring in the 21st minute but lock Brad Thorn appeared from nowhere to unsettle the wing who lost the ball in Thorn's tackle as he dived for the line.

After an untidy start the All Blacks gained the first real scoring opportunity 24 minutes into the first half with a series of strong runs at the French line, spearheaded by hooker Keven Mealamu and tighthead prop Neemia Tialata.

Eventually the ball was moved to the left and while left wing Joe Rokocoko was on his own, he held the ball sufficiently long enough to find the quick support of second five-eighths Ma'a Nonu and he crossed.

It almost scored from the re-start when the All Blacks stormed back upfield with halfback Jimmy Cowan helping take play deep in the French 22m area. The ball was moved wide as first five-eighths Stephen Donald ran into space and lobbed a pass to wing Cory Jane. A try was denied the All Blacks in the corner when the Television Match Offical was unable to see if the ball had been grounded.

The conditions made life difficult for both teams with handling errors both in passing rushes and in attempting to control high kicks. However, it was the All Blacks who made most of the offensive play, and who conceded most ground due to errors.

It was a dreadful night for goal-kicking and New Zealand's first five-eighths Stephen Donald missed three attempts, two penalty goals and a conversion, while French halfback Julien Dupuy missed two penalty goals and second five-eighths Damien Traille missed a dropped goal attempt.

Scorers
New Zealand 14 (Ma'a Nonu try; Stephen Donald 2 pen; Luke McAlister) France 10 (Cedric Heymans try; Julien Dupuy con; Yannick Jauzion pen)

HT: 8-0

Attendance: 31,369