France moved above Argentina into second place in Rugby World Cup Pool C with an unconvincing 33-9 bonus-point win over the United States.
A much-changed Les Bleus side made hard work of claiming maximum points in Fukuoka on Wednesday, scoring three tries in the final 13 minutes.
Jacques Brunel’s side made far too many errors, but scores from Yoann Huget, Alivereti Raka, Gael Fickou, Baptiste Serin and Jefferson Poirot put them a point behind leaders England.
Fickou crossed 13 minutes from time and Serin claimed the bonus point soon after as France got away with a lacklustre display, with the hope given to the USA from three AJ MacGinty penalties ending late on.
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Camille Lopez caught the USA napping just six minutes in, booting over the top for the onrushing Huget to scoop up and go under the posts for a score which Thomas Ramos converted.
The Eagles took that early blow on the chin, getting on the board when MacGinty was on target with a penalty as the France defence came under increasing pressure.
Les Bleus – captained by Louis Picamoles for the first time – continued to rack up the penalties, but a pinpoint cross-field kick from the quick-thinking Lopez set up World Cup debutant Raka for a simple finish in the right corner.
A second MacGinty strike from the tee nine minutes before the break cut France’s lead to 12-6 at the end of a first half in which they were disjointed.
Raka was denied a double due to a forward pass from Sofiane Guitoune and French nerves were jangling when MacGinty’s third successful strike put them just three points behind.
Fickou gave France breathing space with his second try in as many matches in his 50th Test as Les Bleus stepped it up a gear and Serin burst through to seal the bonus point.
Poirot dived over to add further gloss right at the end when the USA failed to stop a rolling maul, with Lopez converting for a third time as France made it two wins out of two following their success over the Pumas.
Flat France falter after strong start
It appeared the USA may be in a for tough day at the office when Huget touched down early on, but France appeared to lack a plan and conceded eight penalties in a poor first half display.
Strong finish gets the job done
With the USA tiring after putting so much into a performance they could be proud of, France pushed on to avoid a scare and take a step towards the quarter-finals – cutting down the errors and finishing with a flourish to move above Argentina.
Key Opta Facts
– This was France’s 50th game at the World Cup, making them the third side to reach the mileston and the first northern hemisphere team to do so (also New Zealand and Australia).
– Lopez has recorded five assists for France in his Test career, four of those have come via kicks, including his two against the USA.
– Huget has scored six Test tries so far in 2019, the most by a France player in a calendar year since 2011 when Vincent Clerc crossed nine times for Les Bleus.
– Fickou has touched down in each of his last three World Cup games for France, only Jean-Baptiste Lafond scored in more consecutive matches at the tournament for Les Bleus (4 in 1999).
France face Tonga on Sunday before a blockbuster clash with England, while the USA will look to ruffle Argentina’s feathers next Wednesday.
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