Fiji inflict ‘big blow’ on France
Brunel says France felt they were moving forward but now take two steps back
Fiji pulled off a remarkable test triumph on Saturday with their first win over France, getting home 21-14 in front of a stunned Stade de France crowd.
Both sides scored two tries but Fiji’s French-based outhalf Ben Volavola added 11 points from the boot to prove the difference as the Pacific islanders held France scoreless in the second half to complete a rare success over a top-tier nation.
Fiji will go to next year’s World Cup as dangerous outsiders with the ability to disrupt the established order. French rugby, meanwhile, faces more introspection after a disappointing 2018.
Semi Radradra broke two tackles before stretching his hand over the line for the opening try in the 20th minute as Fiji got deserved rewards for their early efforts.
Swept aside 54-17 by Scotland a fortnight ago, Fiji looked much more determined this time although their forwards were again overwhelmed at times. France’s opening try came from a driving maul following a lineout that saw captain Guilhem Guirado crash over.
But parity lasted just six minutes as Fiji responded with power and strength, throwing in touches of their sevens flair with a hanging pass and a run with the ball in one hand on display before
France-based winger Josua Tuisova went over. Then 34-year-old winger Vereneki Goneva, who plays for Newcastle Falcons, was unlucky to be adjudged offside after sprinting almost half the pitch to cross the line in the 37th minute in one of several tough calls against the Pacific islanders.
France stretched the first half with five minutes of added time in their bid to take the lead with Guirado eventually scoring a carbon copy of his earlier try for a 14-12 home half-time lead.
But any thoughts that Fiji might capitulate after the break disappeared quickly as Volavola kicked two penalties to see Fiji 18-14 ahead before Tuisova dotted down for a try that was then disallowed.
A television review revealed a late tackle by lock Tevita Cavubati in the build-up to the score.
France were under constant pressure from the free-running Fijians, whose errors were as exasperating as their flair was enthralling.
The home side rallied in the closing stages but the test ended with Fiji fittingly near the French line where they won another penalty that Volavola put over with the last action of the game.
France had won all nine of the teams’ previous encounters.
They have won just three of their 11 matches in 2018.
France’s shock Test defeat will leave Les Blues brooding for some time and confidence at a low less than a year out from the World Cup, admitted coach Jacques Brunel after the defeat.
“It’s a big blow, it’s not what we had planned,” Brunel said after the flair of the Fijians dominated in a game where France got two first half tries but failed to score after the break.
“Unfortunately, it is the end of the autumn tests and the players are all returning to their clubs, leaving us to deal with this difficult impression. It’s going to be a bit complicated.
“We won’t be working again this week, although we will try to review what has happened and understand our shortcomings.
“We are well aware that this defeat serves as a lesson.”
Brunel said he thought France had prepared well but admitted his side did not get into the game.
“We couldn’t change the course of the game. They dominated us with their impact, in the rucks and we were late with our support play and we couldn’t put in place what we had planned.
“It’s hard to see a positive side but I want to believe this is not what we are capable of. We showed something much better against South Africa and Argentina. But we can’t get away from the fact we have lost to Fiji.”
France suffered a last gasp 29-26 defeat to South Africa in Paris in the first of their three home Tests this month, but last weekend beat Argentina 28-13 in Lille.
“We felt we were making progress. We moved two steps forward this month but now we’ve gone back a step,” Brunel added.
It was the first time in 10 meetings that Fiji had beaten France and was a rare success over a top tier nation for the Pacific islanders, who just a fortnight ago lost 54-17 at Murrayfield.
France have been drawn in Pool C at the World Cup in Japan, where they will play Argentina first, then the United States, Tonga and England.
Dejected France players leave the pitch after their defeat to Fiji at the Stade de France.