A plucky young Blues outfit showed plenty of courage and fight before eventually succumbing to France 38-15 in the adidas challenge at North Harbour Stadium on Tuesday night.
With six frontline players out with the All Blacks as well as captain Ali Williams and Luke Braid being rested, the Blues squad had a very young and experimental look to it.
It was an opportunity for a number of second string players to put their hands up for selection and show their coach they were worthy of a call up, and against a powerful French side, they did just that.
They were confronted with a physically intimidating French outfit who puffed out their chests and smashed their opponents in defence.
Baden Kerr was the first casualty, forced from the field after a bone crunching hit from hooker Guilhelm Guirado. The Blues first-five failed his sideline concussion test as Chris Noakes was introduced to the game midway through the first half.
But the Blues were up to the challenge.
Peter Saili led from the front with some strong ball carries, while Anthony Boric, Brendon O'Connor and Kane Barrett all toiled hard in defence.
In fact the whole Blues defensive performance was outstanding. Against an international team, albeit it a second string side, the Blues gritted their teeth, got up in the line, scrambled hard and showed plenty of desperation to hold out the French.
The visitors controlled the wealth of possession and territory in the first half as they disrupted the Blues’ lineout and pressured them at the ruck, but they were unable to make it count as the Blues held them tryless.
However it was their indiscipline that cost Sir John Kirwan’s men as halfback Jean Marc Doussain slotted four penalty kicks to give France a 12-3 halftime lead.
The French came out firing in the second stanza as the Blues defensive line finally cracked, the visitors running in three quick-fire tries to take a commanding 31-3 lead after 55 minutes.
It was centre Gael Fickou who glided through for the opener, before Fijian flyer Noa Nakaitaci scored a brace to put the French firmly in the driver’s seat.
However the home side showed plenty of resolve to fight their way back into the game and they crossed the whitewash through impressive captain James Parsons after 58 minutes.
Keeping it in tight, the forwards barged their way towards the line and after a review by the television match official, Parsons was awarded the try.
The Blues continued their attack through the forwards with strong reward, before the ball was released to the backs as Jackson Willison popped a lovely inside ball to George Moala who brushed off Frederic Michalak to score the home side’s second try.
However France had the final say, replacement hooker Benjamin Kayser crossing for the visitors with 12 minutes remaining to give France a hard fought 38-15 victory.