France escaped the ignominy of being on the receiving end of the biggest comeback in Rugby World Cup history as Camille Lopez’s drop-goal secured a 23-21 victory over Argentina.
A Jekyll and Hyde display from Les Bleus saw them take a 17-point lead in the first half as Gael Fickou and Antoine Dupont crossed within four minutes of each other at the end of impressive moves.
But the Pumas roared back and were soon leading after using their set-piece to get Guido Petti Pagadizabal and Julian Montoya over from line-outs.
Lopez’s first act after coming on as a replacement was to kick the winning points, with Emiliano Boffelli missing a last-minute penalty and the final whistle was followed by a short brawl between the two sets of players.
Nicolas Sanchez slotted through a penalty after a bulldozing run by Petti Pagadizabal but France moved ahead when Virimi Vakatawa dropped Pablo Matera and fed Fickou, who stepped in off the left and stretched over in the 17th minute.
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A surge down the right from Damian Penaud proved key to Les Bleus’ opener and, after some terrific hands in the build-up, the wing offloaded in the tackle for Dupont to go over in the corner.
After adding the extras to both tries, Romain Ntamack contributed a pair of three-pointers either side of some stoic try-line defence to send France into the break 20-3 up.
The Pumas meant business after the restart, though, and had their first try within two minutes – Petti Pagadizabal making the most of the decision to opt for a line-out rather than a kick at goal from a penalty.
Argentina repeated the trick in the 53rd minute and Montoya touched down off the rolling maul, but Sanchez – having appeared to hurt his shoulder in the first half – missed the conversion and was replaced by Benjamin Urdapilleta, who quickly reduced the deficit to two points.
Urdapilleta edged the Pumas ahead for the first time after the TMO decided Boffelli’s aerial challenge with Penaud, which saw the wing leave for a head injury assessment, was fair.
Lopez’s ambitious drop-goal just about had enough length on it and Fickou was let off the hook by Boffelli after a clumsy tackle on the full-back, whose 53-metre penalty curled narrowly wide to give France the win.
France strike first blow
In a pool that also includes England, it always seemed likely that the winner of this game will follow them into the quarter-finals. Having fallen in their opener, Argentina will need a big performance against Eddie Jones’ side if they are to revive hopes of progression.
Les Bleus lose their discipline
Les Bleus struggled to cope with Argentina’s electric start to the second half and referee Angus Gardner warned them twice that repeated infringements could lead to a yellow card. They were fortunate that did not come to fruition.
Key Opta Facts
– Argentina have lost their last 10 Tests, last winning in September 2018 against Australia – they’d never previously lost more than eight in a row.
– The Pumas have lost their last three Rugby World Cup games, their worst run in the tournament since a run of eight straight defeats from 1987 to 1999.
– Ntamack (20 years 143 days) became the youngest player to feature for France in a Rugby World Cup game, beating the previous record held by Jean-Marc Doussain (20y 253d v New Zealand in 2011 final).
– Penaud beat seven defenders in this game, only on seven occasions has a France player beaten more in match since the beginning of 2010.
– Matera won four turnovers in this match, just one fewer than the entire France team and the most by an Argentina player in a Rugby World Cup game.
Argentina take on Tonga in Higashiosaka next Saturday, while France are not in action until their match with the United States in Fukuoka on October 2.
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