France leave it late against Yanks
WORLD CUP REPORT: France scored three tries in the closing stages to beat a willing United States team 33-9 in Fukuoka City on Wednesday.
With just over 10 minutes remaining the French held a slender 12-9 lead.
Tries by Gael Fickou (67th minute), Baptiste Serin (70th minute) and Jefferson Poirot (79th minute) eventually sealed the hard-earned win.
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It was the type of inconsistent performance followers of French rugby have seen all too frequently – breathtaking flair let down by a raft of handling errors.
But the bonus point keeps the pressure up on old enemy England, who play Argentina on Saturday in another Pool C clash of the heavyweights.
“It was a very difficult match but the important thing is that we won with a bonus point,” said flyhalf Camille Lopez.
United States captain Blaine Scully was delighted that his team had been able to push France, three-time World Cup finalists, until the closing stages.
“It’s where we want to be. We want to be testing ourselves in the best competitions against the best teams in the world,” Scully said.
“We’re not expecting any quarter and we don’t expect them to give it to us.”
France looked sharp at the outset, an incisive break by Lopez slicing open the United States midfield after just two minutes.
And Les Bleus were on the scoreboard four minutes later, a counter-attacking move ending in a sublime Lopez chip for wing Yoann Huget to dot down for a scintillating try.
United States coach Gary Gold had called on his team to improve “every aspect” of their game after they went down to England 45-7 and the Eagles held their own for the first quarter, as AJ MacGinty scored a penalty after some pressure on the French line.
But France extended their advantage after 24 minutes when Lopez’s perfectly judged cross-field kick found Alivereti Raka in space on the right-hand touchline for a simple try.
The United States kept in the contest and MacGinty slotted another penalty on the half-hour mark, again the consequence of some sustained forward pressure as France lost their flow.
Huget’s try aside, it was a patchy first-half performance from Les Bleus, a pre-match downpour and humid conditions making handling difficult.
France had a chance to register a third try when Sofiane Guitoune burst through on a mazy run but his long pass to Raka was adjudged forward.
Frustration grew for France as the handling errors increased and coach Jacques Brunel brought on a wealth of experience from the bench.
The only time the United States had ever beaten France in a 15-a-side match was in the 1924 Olympics – the last time the 15-a-side code featured in the games – but they came within three points with MacGinty’s third penalty.
With the French supporters in the crowd starting to get nervous, centre Fickou finally put some daylight between the two sides, crashing over from short range for a try converted by Lopez to give the favourites a 19-9 lead.
And just two minutes later, Serin put the result beyond doubt with a try that again was created by another cross-field kick to Raka.
With the United States tiring and the clock running down, prop Poirot put the icing on the cake with a catch-and-drive pushover.
It was only the second time the two teams have met in a World Cup – France won the only other match 41-14 in 2003.
Next up for France is a match-up with the physical Tongans on October 6, before ‘Le Crunch’ with England in Yokohama that may decide who tops the group and earns a likely quarter-final clash against Australia.
Man of the match: Flyhalf Alan MacGinty did well to keep the United States in the contest for more than an hour. Loose forwards Cam Dolan, Hanco Germishuys and Tony Lamborn put in big shifts as well. Wing Alivereti Raka and centre Sofiane Guitoune asked some serious questions of the American defence. Scrumhalf Maxime Machenaud produced his team’s biggest tackle count, along with doing the basics of his job very well. Lock Bernard Le Roux and hooker Camille Chat also worked hard on defence. However, the most influential player was French flyhalf Camille Lopez – who had a hand in three of his team’s tries, including a couple of sublime crossfield kicks.
Moment of the match: The Yoann Huget (sixth minute) and Alivereti Raka (24th minute) tries looked to put France clear, till Alan MacGinty pulled it back to a three-point game with his third penalty. However, the French response was swift – centre Gael Fickou crashing over in the 67th minute to give Les Bleus the breathing space they wanted. That finally broke the American resistance.
Villain: No Villains. Nothing nasty.
Tries: Huget, Raka, Fickou, Serin, Poirot
Cons: Ramos, Lopez 3
For the United States:
Pens: MacGinty 3
France: 15 Thomas Ramos, 14 Alivereti Raka, 13 Sofiane Guitoune, 12 Gael Fickou, 11 Yoann Huget, 10 Camille Lopez, 9 Maxime Machenaud, 8 Louis Picamoles (captain), 7 Yacouba Camara, 6 Arthur Iturria, 5 Paul Gabrillagues, 4 Bernard Le Roux, 3 Emerick Setiano, 2 Camille Chat, 1 Cyril Baille.
Replacements: 16 Guilhem Guirado, 17 Jefferson Poirot, 18 Rabah Slimani, 19 Sebastien Vahaamahina, 20 Gregory Alldritt, 21 Baptiste Serin, 22 Romain Ntamack, 23 Maxime Medard.
United States: 15 Mike Teo, 14 Blaine Scully (captain), 13 Marcel Brache, 12 Bryce Campbell, 11 Martin Iosefo, 10 Alan MacGinty, 9 Shaun Davies, 8 Cam Dolan, 7 Hanco Germishuys, 6 Tony Lamborn, 5 Nick Civetta, 4 Nate Brakeley, 3 Titi Lamositele, 2 Joe Taufete’e, 1 Eric Fry.
Replacements: 16 Dylan Fawsitt, 17 Olive Kilifi, 18 Paul Mullen, 19 Greg Peterson, 20 Ben Pinkelman, 21 Ruben de Haas, 22 Will Magie, 23 Thretton Palamo.
Referee: Ben O’Keeffe (New Zealand)
Assistant referees: Wayne Barnes (England), Shuhei Kubo (Japan)
TMO: Rowan Kitt (England)