Fiji in­flict ‘big blow’ on France

Brunel says France felt they were mov­ing for­ward but now take two steps back

The Irish Times - Monday - Sport - - Sports -

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.

De­ter­mined

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.

Re­ac­tion

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.

No pos­i­tives

“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.

PHO­TO­GRAPH: GETTY IM­AGES

De­jected France play­ers leave the pitch after their de­feat to Fiji at the Stade de France.

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