Preview: France v Tonga
WORLD CUP POOL MATCH: France go into Sunday’s clash with Tonga looking to erase an eight-year nightmare and produce a dominant performance that will keep them on track for a World Cup quarter-final.
If Les Bleus beat Tonga in the southern city of Kumamoto and England overcome Argentina this weekend then Jacques Brunel’s France should certainly qualify.
A loss for France, or an upset win for Argentina will leave the qualifiers from Pool C undecided until France play England in the final game next weekend.
In the so-called ‘group of death’, France were unconvincing in beating Argentina and the United States, and they are mindful that the so far winless Tongans pulled off a shock 19-14 win over Les Bleus in the 2011 tournament.
France have also had four players injured out of this tournament, and they have not helped themselves by conceding a total of 25 penalties in their first two games.
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They are down to their third halves pairing in as many games, with Baptiste Serin linking up with Romain Ntamack, while prop Jefferson Poirot will lead the side out as the third captain after Louis Picamoles and Guilhem Guirado.
“We are all aware that this match will be a step up from the United States and we are even more focused because we know what happened in 2011,” said flank Charles Ollivon.
“We are aware of the challenge that awaits us. We saw against the United States that if we are not at our best for 80 minutes we could pay a heavy price.”
‘Best win of my career’
Only four players – centre Sofiane Guitoune, hooker Camille Chat, lock Paul Gabrillagues and wing Alivereti Raka – remain from the side struggled for most of their match against the USA.
They were only ahead 12-9 with 15 minutes to play before a late rally blew the score out to 33-9.
Against Argentina they led 20-3 before falling behind and needed a late drop goal to win 23-21.
“We’re unbeaten but we haven’t exactly set the world alight,” said coach Jacques Brunel.
“Tonga play with a lot of force, they are very aggressive and enterprising. It’s a big challenge.”
Three members of the current French squad and two Tongans played in the classic battle eight years ago.
Maxime Medard, who starts at fullback on Sunday, as well as Guirado and Picamoles played for France, with Ntamack’s father Emile the assistant coach. Flank Sione Kalamafoni and centre Siale Piutau turned out for Tonga.
“It was probably the best win of my career,” said Piutau, now Tonga’s captain, adding it also helped to have six members of his match-day 23 based in France.
“They understand the mindset and psyche of French players. when we beat them in 2011 we had a lot of players who played alongside the French boys and it’s definiteley a benefit for us.”
France and Tonga both lost two pool matches in 2011, but France progressed because of superior bonus points and they went all the way to the final, where they were beaten 7-8 by New Zealand.
Ça y est les Bleus sont au stade de Kumamoto pour le Captain run !👊
Les joueurs portent aujourd’hui un tee-shirt rose, en soutien à #keeprugbyclean, le programme d’éducation contre le dopage dans le rugby.#NeFaisonsXV #XVdeFrance #RWC2019 #FRAvTGA pic.twitter.com/Ldjw4flizx
— France Rugby (@FranceRugby) October 5, 2019
Player to watch:
For France: Scrumhalf Baptiste Serin, who scored as replacements against USA on Wednesday, is one to look out for. Flyhalf Romain Ntamack needs to dictate proceedings. While Prop Jefferson Poirot, who also scored as replacements against USA, captains the team.
For Tonga: Tighthead prop Ma’afu Fia will bring a little more mobility. While there are a few players like Leva Fifita (Grenoble), Paula Ngauamo (Agen) and Siegfried Fisiihoi (Stade Francais), who ply their trade in France that could provide Pacific Islanders with some inside knowledge.
Head to head: The two teams have diffrence styles of play, Tonga largely depend on their physical pack and a few strong runners, while France tend to rely on their speed and agility. It will be interesting to see how the frontrow of France Rabah Slimani, Camille Chat, and Jefferson Poirot try to combat Ma’afu Fia, Paula Ngauamo and Siegfried Fisi’iho of Tonga.
— Tonga Rugby Union (@officialTongaRU) October 4, 2019
2013: France won 38-18, Paris
2011: Tonga won 19-14, Wellington (World Cup Pool Match)
2005: France won 43-8, Stade Toulouse
1999: Tonga won 20-16, Tonga
1995: France won 38-10, Pretoria (World Cup Pool match)
Prediction: Tonga have been struggling and have yet to secure a win. France have been in fine form giving their pre-World Cup performance. Tonga will certainly out yp a brave fight, however France will win by 5 points or more.
France: 15 Maxime Medard, 14 Damian Penaud, 13 Virimi Vakatawa, 12 Sofiane Guitoune, 11 Alivereti Raka, 10 Romain Ntamack, 9 Baptiste Serin, 8 Gregorie Alldritt, 7 Charles Ollivon, 6 Wenceslas Lauret, 5 Sebastien Vahaamahina, 4 Paul Gabrillagues, 3 Rabah Slimani, 2 Camille Chat, 1 Jefferson Poirot (captain).
Replacements: 16 Guilhem Guirado, 17 Cyril Baille, 18 Emerick Setiano, 19 Bernard Le Roux, 20 Yacouba Camara, 21 Antoine Dupont, 22 Camille Lopez, 23 Pierre-Louis Barassi.
Tonga: 15 Telusa Veainu, 14 Cooper Vuna, 13 Malietoa Hingano, 12 Siale Piutau (captain), 11 David Halaifonua, 10 James Faiva, 9 Sonatane Takulua, 8 Maama Vaipulu, 7 Zane Kapeli, 6 Sione Kalamafoni, 5 Halaleva Fifita, 4 Sam Lousi, 3 Ma’afu Fia, 2 Paula Ngauamo, 1 Siegfried Fisi’ihoi.
Replacements: 16 Sosefo Sakalia, 17 Vunipola Fifita, 18 Siua Halanukonuka, 19 Sitiveni Mafi, 20 Nasi Manu, 21 Leon Fukofuka, 22 Latiume Fosita, 23 Atieli Pakalani.
Date: Sunday, October 6:
Venue: Kumamoto Stadium, Kumamoto City
Kick-off: 16.45 (07.45 GMT; 09.45 France time; 20.45 Tonga time)
Referee: Nic Berry (Australia)
Assistant referees: Paul Williams (New Zealand), Matthew Carley (England)
TMO: Ben Skeen (New Zealand)