France leave it late to shake off dogged USA

Gritty Americans keep the result in doubt until three tries in the final 14 minutes give Jacques Brunel's side five precious points.

FUKUOKA, 1 Oct - Six days on from their 'calamity in Kobe' against England, USA bounced back to push an erratic France team hard for over an hour in Fukuoka. Ultimately, though, Jacques Brunel's side found their attacking verve just in time to win 33-9 in Pool C.

After 65 minutes, Gary Gold's team were ahead on possession and territory and trailed just 12-9. France, who had changed their front row at half-time to try to reduce an 8-1 penalty count in USA's favour, were rattled, and the increasingly windy conditions gave the Americans every encouragement to strive for a totally unexpected victory.

But that all changed when Gael Fickou feinted one way and stepped the other to establish a 10-point lead for France, who ran in further tries from replacements Baptiste Serin and Jefferson Poirot to give the score a lopsided look.

Gold said he was proud of his players. "I felt we went toe-to-toe. We did make some mistakes but we never gave up the fight, not the for the full 80 minutes.

"A bit sad we didn't get a try on the scoreboard, but just a very, very good performance."

The last thing USA needed was to fall 7-0 behind after five minutes, when fine French handling created Yoann Huget's opening try. Full-back Thomas Ramos began the move in his own 22 and the USA defence had never properly reset when Player of the Match Camille Lopez chipped ahead for Huget to gather and score. Ramos kicked a simple conversion.

If USA were deflated, it did not show and they enjoyed three prolonged spells of pressure on the French line before half-time. France were probably fortunate not to go down to 14 men after a series of try-line infringements. All the USA had to show for their pressure, however, was two penalties from AJ MacGinty, both for offside.

In between, France scored a superb second try. From an inch-perfect kick by Lopez to the right wing, Alivereti Raka, pictured, caught and touched down in one fluid movement. It was the 24-year-old's second try in just his third international. 

French second-row Bernard Le Roux admitted: "We got a big surprise in the first half. We thought it was going to be a bit easier but they got stuck in and gave us a tough time at the breakdowns and we didn't get clean ball. So it was really tough, especially in the first half and the bench did well when they came on. They made a big difference."

After an absorbing 10 minutes to open the second half, centre Sofiane Guitoune surged from his own half to within 15 metres of the USA line. He had options, but probably took the wrong one with an attempted 30-metre pass to Raka. Although he found his man, the pass had drifted forward.

MacGinty's probing kicks kept USA on the front foot often enough to worry France, and his third penalty reduced the deficit to three points.

For two minutes, the shock result looked possible, but American hopes were snuffed out when Fickou crossed. There was still time for scrum-half Serin to score a fourth try and suddenly the gap was 17 points and France had their bonus point. Poirot's late try from a driving maul merely added an extra coat of gloss to the scoreline.

RNS ns/bo