This was their fourth straight defeat of a testing tour and their fourth in succession to the French who, despite a world ranking of No 4, have firmed as one of the favourites for next year’s Women’s Rugby World Cup in New Zealand.
There was more starch to the Black Ferns’ defence and breakdown work, but concerns remain around their kicking game and lineout play. Happily, there was a Test debut to savour for loose forward Kendra Reynolds.
The Black Ferns will rue a sluggish start, trailing 14-0 after just 11 minutes as hooker Agathe Sochat plunged over from a clinical lineout drive, another Achilles heel for the visitors, and left wing Marie Aurelie Castel scored off some blindside guile by halfback Pauline Bourdon.
France forced the Black Ferns into errors, but there were unforced errors too and some rushed kicking which played into the home team’s hands. Second five Gabrielle Vernier was top value, as were loose forwards Gaelle Hermet, the captain, and Romane Menager.
A couple of calls went against the Black Ferns in the first spell, including one when hooker Te Kura Ngata-Aerengamate was penalised for pushing an opponent in a ruck!
No 8 Kennedy Simon, who alongside her industrious skipper Les Elder, was one of the best Black Ferns, scored in close for the sole New Zealand try, but there was a case for a penalty try and a yellow card against Bourdon for a deliberate knockdown.
The Black Ferns would not have felt too unhappy with a 14-7 deficit, given their lack of ball, but conceded a hammer blow penalty try and yellow card to lock Maia Roos on the stroke of halftime.
The second spell saw more urgency from the visitors, but they could not break down the French defence. Castel’s second score was the sole try of the half, coming from a patient build-up and crisp last pass by the calm No 10 Caroline Drouin.
Simon’s brutal fend on wing Cyrielle Banet was a highlight, but France still maintained the initiative until the final whistle.
Portia Woodman was again dangerous on the left wing, but her insides could not feed her enough ball in space.
Halfback Kendra Cocksedge’s 57th Test match drew her level with the Black Ferns’ appearance record of the great hooker Fiao’o Faamausili.
There is much work ahead for the Black Ferns as they contemplate a huge 2022 which will culminate in the World Cup next spring.
France 29 (Marie Aurelie Castel 2, Agathe Sochat tries, penalty try; Caroline Drouin 2 con, pen) Black Ferns 7 (Kennedy Simon try, Kendra Cocksedge con) HT: 21-7 France