Camille Lopez slotted a late drop goal as France clinched a riveting 23-21 win against Argentina in their Pool C opener in Tokyo on Saturday. MARIETTE ADAMS reports.
Grouped in the pool of death with England, these sides knew their stay beyond the regular stage of the tournament potentially hinged on this result. And they played like it too, producing the most extraordinary contest that hung in the balance right to the end.
France turned on the style in the first half to take a 17-point lead. Argentina mounted a stunning comeback in the second stanza to hit the front. But ultimately, the sides were separated by Lopez’s heroics. There was a late opportunity for Argentina to snatch a win, but fullback Emiliano Boffelli’s match-defining long-range effort in the last minute drifted agonisingly wide of the target.
Argentina were unable to sustain their impressive start and once the French settled down and launched an assault, Los Pumas couldn’t match nor live with the intensity and pace their counterparts injected into the game, despite making a couple of big hits in the first half.
Having conceded three early points, France struck back with two screaming tries – scored by Gael Fickou and Antoine Dupont – for a deserved 14-3 lead into the break. That said, Argentina offered very little on attack and were their own worst enemies at times.
If Argentina lacked spark, energy and urgency before the break, they had it in spades at the resumption. In a momentum shift for the ages, Argentina stormed back into the contest by scoring 18 unanswered points, including tries from the irrepressible Guido Petti and replacement hooker Julian Montoya, to go into the lead for the first time in the 69th minute.
But in a breathless end to the match, Lopez – with his first touch of the ball – hit a sweet drop goal to turn the result in his team’s favour before Boffelli botched his chance.
Argentina – Tries: Guido Petti, Julian Montoya. Conversion: Nicholas Sanchez. Penalties: Sanchez, Ben Urdapilleta (2).
France – Tries: Gael Fickou, Antoine Dupont. Conversions: Romain Ntamack (2). Penalties: Ntamack (2). Drop goal: Camille Lopez.
France – 15 Maxime Medard, 14 Damian Penaud, 13 Gael Fickou, 12 Virimi Vakatawa, 11 Yoann Huget, 10 Romain Ntamack, 9 Antoine Dupont, 8 Gregory Aldritt, 7 Charles Ollivon, 6 Wenceslas Lauret, 5 Sebastien Vahaamahina, 4 Arthur Iturria, 3 Rabah Slimani, 2 Guilhelm Guirado (c), 1 Jefferson Poirot.
Subs: 16 Camille Chat, 17 Cyril Baille, 18 Demba Bamba, 19 Bernard le Roux, 20 Louis Picamoles, 21 Maxime Machenaud, 22 Camille Lopez, 23 Thomas Ramos.
Argentina – 15 Emiliano Boffelli, 14 Matias Moroni, 13 Matias Orlando, 12 Jeronimo de la Fuente, 11 Ramiro Moyano, 10 Nicolas Sanchez, 9 Tomas Cubelli, 8 Javier Ortega Desio, 7 Marcos Kremer, 6 Pablo Matera, 5 Tomas Lavanini, 4 Guido Petti, 3 Juan Figallo, 2 Agustin Creevy, 1 Nahuel Tetaz Chaparro.
Subs: 16 Julian Montoya, 17 Mayco Vivas, 18 Santiago Medrano, 19 Matias Alemanno, 20 Tomas Lezana, 21 Felipe Ezcurra, 22 Benjamin Urdapilleta, 23 Santiago Carreas.