New Zealand 48 (Tries: Inu, Goodwin, Nu’uausala x2, Johnson x2, Eastwood & Tuivasa-Sheck; Goals: Johnson x8)
France. Les Tricolores. New Zealand’s infamous rugby union ‘bogey team’. For the first 15 or so minutes, it looked like that tag had drifted from union to league. Not so once the team got going and decided to really turn up and play like it was a test match.
The Foran kick to Inu earlier on in the piece is what really got things going for the jerseys with the white V. His halves partner Johnson began to throw in more and more useful stepping combinations, backed up by the revered physicality of Rabbitohs hooker Issac Luke and some safe hands and calm heads out wide in the names of Jason Nightingale and fellow Rabbitoh Bryson Goodwin, who really lifted his act from last week’s ‘less than Goodwin’ performance.
Up front, big Jared Waerea-Hargreaves showed his premiership-winning form and kept the heat and momentum up on high, right in front of Ben Matulino and Bulldogs enforcers Frank Pritchard and Sam Kasiano.
Salford City Reds’ Thomas Fages showed courage and consistency throughout the encounter far beyond what might be expected of a 19-year-old. Jean-Philippe Baile set the standard for the defence his countrymen were capable of, tackling Jason Nightingale with such force that it cost the St George Dragon a try in the corner.
As the confidence grew, the tendency to throw the ball farther and wider did too. Speedsters Shaun Johnson and Roger Tuivasa-Sheck netted themselves three tries between them before Greg Eastwood muscled his way over the line soon after coming on.
Player of the Match
The men who called the game awarded NZ Warrior Shaun Johnson the title in question. Not undeserved, but had it been my pick, I’d have given it to Issac Luke. His speed, decisiveness and sheer strength made the job of being a French defender very unsettling.
France will walk away with a few bruised bodies as they move from metres to massages and the Kiwis got off the park without any significant injury scares. Next up, France take on Samoa in Perpignan in a week and New Zealand head north to Leeds to face Papua New Guinea.