France show flak­i­ness but sur­vive

‘No team scares us. Eng­land are clear favourites but that re­lieves the pres­sure on us’

The Daily Telegraph - Sport - - Total Rugby - At Ku­mamoto Sta­dium

RUGBY COR­RE­SPON­DENT The storm clouds gath­ered over the Ku­mamoto Sta­dium on a hu­mid Sun­day af­ter­noon, then came a rum­ble of thun­der, and as Tonga flanker Zane Kapeli leapt high into the air to touch down with just sec­onds re­main­ing for a score that closed the gap to four points with a (suc­cess­ful) con­ver­sion to come, there were vivid flashes across the dis­tant hills to­wards the city. Light­ning? Again? Surely not?

Eight years ago in Welling­ton, Tonga pulled off the shock of the New Zealand World Cup by beat­ing France. Was there to be a re­peat? Ear­lier, cen­tre Malietoa Hingano had rounded off a brac­ing se­quence to tee up Tonga. The skies dark­ened but nei­ther the rains nor the Ton­gan in­sur­rec­tion came to pass, even if the Pa­cific Is­land team outscored France 14-6 in the se­cond half.

It was a real scare for France, a dig in the ribs to re­mind them that they lack con­vic­tion as well as com­po­sure. They re­main febrile, ca­pa­ble of stand­out mo­ments but prone to er­ror and flak­i­ness. Les Bleus, still bitty, still go­ing walk­a­bout, still vul­ner­a­ble, go through to the quar­ter-fi­nals from Pool C, with a first­place Le Crunch against Eng­land on Satur­day in Yoko­hama to de­cide who fin­ishes top.

Again, af­ter a bright be­gin­ning, there was lit­tle of sus­tained de­ci­sive­ness about France’s play, lit­tle to per­suade you that they will be able to match the rigour and con­trol of Eng­land’s game. This was a strong France side with 10 or so reg­u­lars but, even with re­in­force­ments on pa­rade, they have sim­ply not man­aged to put any­thing like a com­plete 80-minute per­for­mance on the field. Plus ca change… Yet the French camp are forth­right about the chal­lenge ahead.

“No team scares us,” said their No 8, Gre­gory Alldritt, of Fran­coscot­tish parent­age. “Eng­land are clear favourites, but that re­lieves the pres­sure on us. It is a big game, for sure, and given we had a piti­ful per­for­mance in the Six Na­tions, we know we must do bet­ter. Eng­land can do ev­ery­thing. They have struc­ture, de­fence and a kick­ing game. But the fact that it is Le Crunch will im­pact on our men­tal­ity.”

Tonga gave France a real fright and if there had been more dis­ci­pline in their game, French blushes would have been deep. Eng­land were fit­ful in their opener against Tonga, but there was never a sense of an up­set in Sap­poro. Here, by con­trast, Tonga were men­ac­ing all through the con­test.

France do not seem able to bring shape or di­rec­tion to their play, ei­ther to con­trol the ball or find field po­si­tion. It is ran­dom and frac­tured. It took two se­cond-half penal­ties by fly-half Ro­main Nta­mack to set­tle

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