Hosts France followed up their opening-night triumph over the All Blacks with an underwhelming defeat of Uruguay on Thursday to remain top of Pool A at the Rugby World Cup.
Last week’s rip-roaring victory over three-time winners New Zealand was always going to be a hard act to follow for the hosts, but few had expected them to struggle against Uruguay – one of the lowest-ranked teams at the tournament.
France coach Fabien Galthié made wholesale changes to the home side, opting to rest the likes of Gregory Alldritt, Gael Fickou, Charles Ollivon and captain Antoine Dupont.
But he warned his players not to show complacency at the Stade Pierre-Mauroy in Lille, noting that Uruguay had “big hearts” and “a lot of energy and aggression”.
That warning turned out to be an understatement.
For all their limitations, most notably at the scrum, Uruguay showed up with a real spring in their step, proving themselves to be inventive and daring with ball in hand – though they never really had enough of it.
Uruguay’ scrum struggled from the get-go, handing the hosts an early penalty that Melvyn Jaminet had no trouble converting. But it was the unfancied visitors who claimed the first try, with Felipe Etcheverry lobbing the French defence with a lovely kick out wide that Nicolas Freitas grounded over the line to put Uruguay in front.
It was unlikely lead for Los Teros – as Uruguay are known – and the hosts were soon back in front, courtesy of some clever work by scrum-half Maxime Lucu who sent Antoine Hastoy across the line for France’s try.
Jaminet’s conversion was followed by another penalty when Uruguay collapsed the scrum, again, but France’s momentum stalled after Romain Taofifenua was sin-binned for a shoulder-blow to Arata’s face, whose downward motion spared the Frenchman an upgrade to a red.
Moments later, Etcheverry darted through a gap in the French defence and leapt for the line, only for the match officials to annul the try after spotting an obstruction in the build-up.
With Taofifenua back on the pitch, it was France’s turn to squander try-scoring opportunities as Uruguay’s defence held firm, leaving the visitors trailing by just 8 points at half time.
The South Americans showed plenty more intent after the break. They were unlucky not to score after Amaya broke the French defensive line and sprinted down the pitch, only to be pinned down at the last.
There was a smattering of whistles in the stands when the hosts opted to kick – and miss – a penalty from 50 yards out instead of going for a try, and there were outrights boos when the restless Amaya sprinted past two defenders to score Uruguay’s second try.
It was brilliant work by Uruguay, but their best efforts were undone moments later when a rushed kick by Etcheverry bounced off one of his teammates, allowing Peato Mauvaka to pick up for the easiest of tries.
France, struggling with discipline all night, were still unable to take command and managed only one more try, with 20-year-old Louis Bielle-Biarrey, who became Les Bleus’ youngest player at a World Cup.
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