FUKUOKA, Japan, Oct 2 – France ran in three late tries against the United States Wednesday to earn a vital bonus point in the Rugby World Cup ‘group of death’ with an erratic 33-9 win.
Les Bleus were just 12-9 ahead with 13 minutes to go before Gael Fickou, Baptiste Serin and Jefferson Poirot dotted down to secure victory against the underdogs.
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 fly-half Camille Lopez, who picked up the man-of-the-match award.
USA captain Blaine Scully was delighted 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 winger Yoann Huget to dot down for a scintillating try.
USA 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 USA 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.
– ‘Destabilised, unbalanced’ –
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 USA had ever beaten France in a 15-a-side match was in the 1924 Olympics — the last time rugby XVs 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 USA 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.
“There’s work to do. Still quite a lot of work to do, that’s clear,” Brunel told French television.
“We struggled to control the game. We made a lot of errors. We were destabilised, unbalanced.”
Gold, so furious with his team after the England defeats, was effusive in his praise.
“We never gave up the fight, not for the full 80 minutes. Just so proud of everyone,” said Gold.