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