A passionate rendition of Te Iwi Kiwi from the NZ18s set the bar for what would be a tough battle against the touring France Under-19s in Rotorua on Wednesday night.
The French were full of confidence after wins against Waikato and Canterbury while the New Zealanders were eager to kick off their 2019 campaign with a win.
Nine minutes into the match, Canterbury prop Caius Fa'atili, rolled over for New Zealand’s first try (he's also set to back up by taking the field in the NZRL Premiership final against Akarana on Saturday).
Eighteen minutes in France scored its first points as Thomas Soler showed good pace to run away with an intercept try.
New Zealand hit back shortly after as Jonah Palota-Kopa dived on a grubber to make it 10-4.
The home side continued its dominance with Fa'atili crossing for his second in the 27th minute, followed soon after by back-to-back tries to Jordan Coleman and Vodafone Warriors players Taniela Otukolo and Semisi Tapa.
New Zealand’s attack proved too much for France with six tries to one during the first 40 minutes for a 32-4 halftime lead.
The dominance continued after the break with Vodafone Warriors players Feao Tongia and Caleb Pese scoring to make it 44-4.
However, any thoughts of it being a one-sided match were quickly put to bed as France mounted an impressive comeback.
The French starved New Zealand of possession for most of the second half, although at times it was made easy by the home side's own handling errors.
France showed pace and attacking smarts to score 22 unanswered points in the second half, with tries to Thomas Lacans, Jason Goffin, Matthew Cozza and Valentin Zafra.
The full-time score was 44-26 in New Zealand's favour.
Both teams head to Auckland’s Pulman Park on Sunday with the French set to take on Auckland Under-19s while the New Zealand 18s will meet against Toa Samoa.