France look anything but Rugby World Cup winners in scruffy win over Uruguay
By Charles Richardson
World Cup winners? On this showing, not a chance. Not to take anything away from the most heroic Uruguayan performance, but one of the scruffiest France displays of the Fabien Galthie era, gift-wrapped with refereeing rub of the green, eventually thwarted the challenge of Los Teros.
Galthie made 12 changes to the side that beat New Zealand in the tournament opener six days ago – and it showed. Other than a few sparks from the polyvalent Sekou Macalou, France looked like a side shorn of stars. Uruguay, meanwhile, were littered with them; until the 55th minute, Los Teros trailed by a solitary point.
Captain and centre Andres Vilaseca, as well as half-backs Felipe Etcheverry and Santiago Arata – the latter of whom France knew intensely, given the scrum-half starts for Castres in the Top 14 – were magnificent. Uruguay had been targeting a third-place finish in this pool to qualify automatically for the 2027 tournament and on this evidence that is not blind optimism.
“Credit to Uruguay,” said Raphael Ibanez, France’s team manager. “They played with so much passion and heart. It was a hard battle but it’s the second win for us in this competition – which is important.
“We made a few mistakes ball in hand and it was difficult to find structure. It’s a World Cup game, serious business, and we’ll learn from that.”
Officialdom has dominated the narrative of this tournament and there was no change in Lille. Romain Taofifenua, the French lock, was fortunate that the first-half yellow card for a shoulder to the head of Arata was not upgraded in the bunker, with the scrum-half deemed to be slipping; while Les Bleus en masse were fortunate that Etcheverry’s try, approaching half-time, was ruled out for the softest of blocks by Tomas Inciarte. On another day, France might have led by just a point at the interval; and would have had to manage the second half with 14 players.
As it happened, Les Bleus took an eight-point lead into the break, but the half belonged to the gumption of Uruguay. Melvyn Jaminet thumped an early three points over before Los Teros lit up Lille.
It was five points for Uruguay but it was conceived in France. Vilaseca, of Vannes in the French second tier, caused chaos in the midfield. One Etcheverry cross-kick later and Nicolas Freitas, also of Vannes, was beating Jaminet, hacking on and scoring. France and Lille – where the raucous crowd was deafening – were stunned.
The French response was swift, but it was not emphatic, with Maxime Lucu sending Hastoy over from close range.
Baltazar Amaya’s break early in the second half proved that Uruguay were going nowhere fast – and a ruled-out try for wing Gabin Villiere nourished Los Teros’ belief.
Uruguayan desire bore fruit. Arthur Vincent shot out of defence and Etcheverry needed no invitation to thread Amaya through the hole, beating Jaminet’s despairing lunge. Etcheverry’s conversion made it a one-point game.
That was for all of 30 seconds. Arata’s restart clearance was deflected and Peato Mauvaka pounced, collecting brilliantly with one hand to score. A late Louis Bielle-Biarrey score saw the Uruguayan resistance finally repelled – and an almighty French fright was evaded.
Scoring sequence: 3-0 Jaminet pen, 3-5 Freitas try, 8-5 Hastoy try, 10-5 Jaminet con, 13-5 Jaminet pen, 13-10 Amaya try, 13-12 Etcheverry con, 18-12 Mauvaka try, 20-12 Jaminet con, 25-12 Bielle-Biarrey try, 27-12 Jaminet con.
France: M Jaminet; L Bielle-Biarrey, A Vincent, Y Moefana, G Villière; A Hastoy, M Lucu (B Couilloud 63); J-B Gros (R Wardi 49), P Bourgarit (P Mauvaka 49), D Aldegheri (S Falatea 49), C Woki (T Flament 57), R Taofifenua (B Chalureau 49), P Boudehent, S Macalou, A Jelonch (c) (F Cros 49).
Replacements unused: T Ramos.
Yellow card: Taofifenua 26
Uruguay: B Amaya; B Basso, T Inciarte, A Vilaseca (c), N Freitas; F Etcheverry (F Berchesi 57), S Arata (A Ormaechea 57); M Sanguinetti ( M Benitez 49), G Pujadas (F Gattas 49), I Peculo (R Piussi 49), F Aliaga (I Dotti 58), M Leindekar, M Ardao (L Bianchi 54), S Civetta, M Diana (C Deus 54).
Referee: Ben O’Keeffe (New Zealand)