A barnstorming finish by Ngani Laumape proved to be the difference as the All Blacks staved off a rugged midweek examination from a French selection and held on to win 28-23 in Lyon.
A hugely inexperienced New Zealand team trailed 15-14 at halftime in a relentlessly physical contest before gaining some control soon after the break, finished off perfectly by Laumape's run.
The Hurricanes midfielder continued to push his case for a spot in the first team after he bowled through a French tackler with easy and barged over the line to score the All Blacks' final try in the match.
But from there, it became a real test for the the inexperienced squad as the final quarter descended into a testy affair, dominated by constant referrals to the television match official.
English referee Luke Pearce appeared to be convinced to go upstairs by either the home team or the boisterous capacity crowd of 60,000.
Several decisions went against the All Blacks, including a yellow card for debut centre Jack Goodhue when he took out a support runner.
The All Blacks conceded a try but clung on over the final seven minutes to secure a win which will delight coach Steve Hansen, who wanted to assess his next wave of talent in an international cauldron.
He got what he wanted from the French side, who were committed and passionate, delivering a stern test to a New Zealand side featuring nine uncapped players.
Boasting just 150 caps between them, the visitors manufactured four good team tries to three in cool but perfect conditions.
Among New Zealand's best were halfback Tawera Kerr-Barlow, in possibly his last game before taking up a French club contract, and Liam Squire.
Burly flanker Squire shook off the effects of a virus which ruled him out Saturday's 38-18 Test win over France in Paris and unleashed a muscular display to prove he is ready to face Scotland in Edinburgh this weekend.
The All Blacks' first-half tries were fine team efforts, with both converted from the sideline by first five-eighth Lima Sopoaga.
Squire crossed in the left corner in the 11th minute and Matt Duffie in the right in the 24th, the first All Blacks try for the former Melbourne Storm NRL winger.
On both occasions France responded with a try to winger Gabriel Lacroix, the second a 70m intercept effort following a long, loose pass from Laumape.
Francois Trinh-Duc put his team in front at the break with a penalty but the visitors took control after halftime.
Playing with more precision, they commanded possession and territory to create close-range tries to lock Patrick Tuipulotu and Laumape.
Both came from bullocking runs, seemingly the only way to unlock a committed defence.
The 14-man All Blacks couldn't stop centre Henry Chavancy crossing after a brilliant run from flanker Sekou Macalou but were able to hold out the passionate hosts over the final seven minutes.