Japan threatened to claim one of the greatest upset wins of all-time before going down 47-21 to France at the North Habour Stadium.
The French led by just four points with 15 minutes to go, before running in three tries against a tiring Japanese outfit that inflated the scoreline. John Kirwan’s side were outstanding in the second half, with a try, conversion and penalty from former Blues flyhalf James Arlidge (who was named Man of the Match) bringing them right back into the game. At one point, France coach Marc Lievremont got out of his chair in the coaching box and walked away, such was his disgust at his team’s performance.
France had led 25-11 at half-time after scoring three tries, all of which came from Japanese mistakes.
Lock Pierre Julien’s try followed a botched Japan lineout, flyhalf Francois Trinh-Duc scored after intercepting a wayward Arlidge pass, and winger Vincent Clerc went over after the Japanese had failed to claim possession from a restart.
Japan’s first-half try came from a lineout inside the French 22. Les Bleus collapsed the subsequent maul, and as the referee signalled advantage, Arlidge’s kick rebounded off Trinh-Duc and the Japan flyhalf scored.
Japan defended bravely for the first 10 minutes of the second half, when France had all the ball. Arlidge then scored his second try, under the posts, which prompted Lievremont to bring on a host of replacements, including David Skrela at flyhalf.
Arlidge slotted another penalty to make it 25-21 and when Skrela left the field injured (and was replaced by a scrumhalf, Morgan Parra) a major upset looked likely.
However, Les Bleus kept their composure in the final 15 minutes, with a Yachvili penalty followed shortly after by a try to lock Lionel Nallet. Replacement second rower Pascal Pape then sealed the win with his side’s fifth try, which was followed by another, from Parra, in the dying moments of the game.
By Simon Borchardt