NEW Giants signing Paul Whatuira was once again on the scoresheet as the Kiwis came from behind to beat France 22-14 in Paris.
It was the centre’s third try in four tour appearances this autumn, with his first two coming in defeats against Great Britain.
But there was no doubt the one he scored against the French was by far the most important.
With eight minutes remaining, the visitors were 14-10 behind and staring a first defeat in France for 27 years in the face.
Yet at the crucial moment, Whatuira was on hand to collect a pass from Wigan’s Thomas Leuluai to surge over for a try, converted by Ben Roberts, to put New Zealand back in front.
And six minutes later Leuluai sealed victory as he cut through for another converted try.
It was the ideal way for the Kiwis to sign off a disastrous series against Great Britain and was of major significance for Gary Kemble and Roy Asotasi – the first success in five tests as coach for Kemble and the first in six as captain for Asotasi.
But it was never going to be a straightforward success and the French underlined that with a lightning start.
Within minutes the home side opened their account through second rower Eric Anselme, and Maxime Greseque converted and then added a penalty to give France an 8-0 lead.
New Zealand’s concerns were deepened by a hip injury that forced impressive second-rower Jeremy Smith out of the contest in the opening minutes.
Reduced to 16 fit players, the Kiwis battled to find rhythm but, when they did, they quickly took the lead.
A nice inside ball by half-back Jeremy Smith put Louis Anderson over in the 24th minute. With second rower Smith sidelined stand-off Ben Roberts stepped up as yet another goalkicking option and nailed the conversion.
Eight minutes later Roberts chipped, half-back Smith caught it on the fly and flicked a sweet wide pass for left winger Kenny-Dowall to score on his debut.
That gave New Zealand a 10-8 half-time lead, but within six minutes of the restart former New Zealand Warriors winger Justin Murphy seized on a loose pass to score a try which Greseque again converted for a 14-10 lead.
That was close to being extended when Anselme had a potential second try ruled out by Super League referee Ashley Klein.
And the let-off proved vitally important as Whatuira struck moments later to give his nation a much-needed boost.