PARIS : France played some splendid rugby in an exhilarating first half as they claimed their biggest victory against New Zealand on Saturday, but coach Fabien Galthie said Les Bleus should have done better before the break.
France won 40-25 for their first victory against the All Blacks since 2009, and their first on home soil since 2000 in a brilliant demonstration of their flair.
“In the first half, we played well, we suffocated them and the team believed in themselves,” Galthie, who captained France to the 42-33 win in Marseille 21 years ago, told a news conference.
“At halftime we said to ourselves that we could do better, we had given them a couple of soft penalties. Even though they had only scored six points.”
New Zealand were 24-6 down at halftime – the biggest margin in their history, but they bounced back in the second half, scoring three tries in 20 minutes to narrow the deficit down to two points.
But France had more in store.
Flyhalf Romain Ntamack launched a stunning counter attack from inside his 22 metres that ended close to the line, with Ardie Savea coming off his feet to keep Les Bleus at bay.
The number eight was sin-binned as a result and Melvyn Jaminet slotted the penalty home to put the hosts back in control.
Galthie said it was a turning point.
“It was the moment when Romain and the team said ‘stop, it’s enough’,” he explained.
“Despite our moment of weakness we stayed composed, we did not crack,” said captain Antoine Dupont.
“We were never scared and we showed that after the hour,” said prop Cyril Baille.
Two years before hosting the World Cup, France snatched a landmark victory that will boost their confidence.
“This is an important moment, our 20th game since we took over,” said Galthie after Les Bleus completed a perfect autumn series following wins against Argentina and Georgia.
“This series and tonight’s game are an important step. It is a moment of growth and I think it will give the players a lot of confidence.”
“Now every team will be super motivated when they play against us,” said fullback Jaminet after a perfect kicking performance.
Scratching his head as he thought of areas to improve, Dupont said: “We need to keep the same level throughout our games.”
(Reporting by Julien Pretot; Editing by Pritha Sarkar)