In Summary
  • France's veteran coach Guy Noves now enjoys the unenviable record of 14 defeats and a draw from his 22 matches in charge, the side's worst win-ratio in almost 50 years.
  • Noves was expected to be replaced by former Italy coach Jacques Brunel for the 2018 Six Nations.

PARIS

New Zealand, led magnificently by playmaker Beauden Barrett, continue to lead the pack in their bid for an unprecedented third consecutive World Cup, although they were held to a drawn series by the British and Irish Lions.

In the highlight of the rugby calendar for 2017, Steve Hansen's All Blacks fought out an epic 1-1 draw with the Lions, coached by Wales' Warren Gatland.

"It's come down to the wire and we've ended up with one hand on the trophy each, which is a bit like kissing your sister," Hansen said of the final result.

Talks of a downturn in rugby-obsessed New Zealand accelerated after the team were beaten 23-18 by Australia in a pulsating Bledisloe Cup match in October.

A fresh hole pierced in the world champions' aura of invincibility? Not really, they rebounded to go on a five-game winning tour of the Northern Hemisphere in November.

"If we'd won that Lions series rather than drawn it probably people wouldn't be so down in the mouth," Hansen said.

"It would appear this is a year we're finding out about ourselves."

With fly-half legend Dan Carter heading off into a final swansong in Japan, Hansen has cleverly introduced a number of up-and-coming, little-known players into the All Black set-up and arrived for the November Tests with an enlarged squad of 43.

Younger players were blooded. They didn't let Hansen down, and the rest of the rugby world looked on in astonishment at the adept grooming of the youngsters, best epitomised by free-scoring winger Rieko Ioane, still just 20.

Gatland, in his guise as Wales coach, said: "There's still a gap, but I'd like to think it's closing a little bit."

Barrett emulated New Zealand great Richie McCaw when he won World Rugby's player of the year award for the second straight year.

The fly-half notched up 41 points against the Lions and said: "We learnt a lot from that series, particularly taking that into the World Cup."

But neither Hansen nor Gatland took the coach's award. That plaudit went to England boss Eddie Jones, who has steered his team to 22 wins out of 23 Tests since taking charge after their first-round exit at the 2015 World Cup.

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