France were given a scare by Japan in their RWC opener on Saturday but managed to get the job done with a 47-21 win in Auckland.
France were given a scare by Japan in their World Cup opener on Saturday but managed to get the job done with a 47-21 win at North Harbour Stadium in Auckland.
A bonus point means that les Bleus move level with New Zealand at the top of Pool A, but it was far from plain sailing as the Japanese made a mockery of many of the bookies' predictions.
A virtuoso performance from Japanese fly-half James Arlidge saw him score all his team's points in an entertaining game highlighted by the Brave Blossoms' fighting spirit.
The result looked done and dusted early on as France made the expected strong start. But as complacency set in and Japan continued to fight, the underdogs made an incredible comeback.
After cruising to a 20-3 lead inside the first 30 minutes, France found themselves under huge pressure at 25-21 on the hour mark.
A late revival however saw the French restore order, finishing the game with six tries to Japan's two.
The first half-an-hour went perfectly to script: The Japanese scrum was slaughtered and their defence out wide was found wanting.
Three tries – from lock Julien Pierre, fly-half Francois Trinh-Duc and wing Vincent Clerc – gave France a 23-11 lead at half-time. Arlidge's replied with a try of his own and two penalties.
It took France 27 minutes to score their first points of the second half – although they were unlucky to be denied a try on two occasions by the TMO, who adjudged the ball to have been held up – but scored 22 unanswered points in the last ten minutes.
Dragons fly-half Arlidge got Japan on the board with his second penalty attempt and was handed a stroke of good fortune when his attempted grubber, charged down by Trinh-Duc, rebound into his hands to dash over, although he missed the conversion.
France hit back with a lovely try from deadly finisher Clerc. Arlidge then landed his second penalty on half-time to keep Japan in touch.
Imanol Harinordoquy and Lionel Nallet were both denied tries soon after the restart as the Japanese managed to get body parts under the ball in-goal.
The Cherry Blossoms then began to strike. After a series of phases – prompted by the high tempo play of scrum-half Fumiaki Tanaka – Arlidge spotted the gap and broke through two tackles to score. He also added the conversion to cut the deficit to 25-18.
France suddenly seemed all at sea and lost all shape. However they were given some breathing space by a Yachvili penalty with 12 minutes left before veteran lock Nallet powered over to make the game safe.
And in the dying minutes lock Pascal PapÃ© added the finishing touch after a brilliant move that started in the French 22, while replacement Parra scored in the corner.
Man of the match: We don't often go for a player from the losing team, but James Arlidge deserves the gong. His second try was sensational and gave his team hope of causing an upset.
Moment of the match: France showed what they are capable off when Cedric Heymans made a beautiful offload to AurÃ©lien Rougerie, who sent it wide for Vincent Clerc's try. It gave France a 25-8 lead…Japan were never going to be able to come back from there.
Villain of the match: No nasty stuff to report.
Tries: Pierre, Trinh-Duc, Clerc, Nallet, PapÃ©, Parra
Cons: Yachvili 4
Pens: Yachvili 3
Tries: Arlidge 2
Pens: Arlidge 3
France: 15 Cedric Heymans, 14 Vincent Clerc, 13 AurÃ©lien Rougerie, 12 Fabrice Estebanez, 11 Maxime MÃ©dard, 10 Francois Trinh-Duc, 9 Dimitri Yachvili, 8 Raphael Lakafia, 7 Imanol Harinordoquy, 6 Thierry Dusautoir (c), 5 Julien Pierre, 4 Lionel Nallet, 3 Nicolas Mas, 2 William Servat, 1 Fabien Barcella.
Replacements: 16 Dimitri Szarzewski, 17 Jean-Baptiste Poux, 18 Julien Bonnaire, 19 Pascal PapÃ©, 20 Morgan Parra, 21 David Skrela, 22 David Marty
Japan: 15 Shaun Webb, 14 Kosuke Endo, 13 Koji Taira, 12 Ryan Nicholas, 11 Hirotoki Onozawa, 10 James Arlidge, 9 Fumiaki Tanaka, 8 Ryukoliniasi Holani, 7 Michael Leitch, 6 Takashi Kikutani (c), 5 Toshizumi Kitagawa, 4 Luke Thompson, 3 Kensuke Hatakeyama, 2 Shota Horie, 1 Hisateru Hirashima.
Replacements: 16 Yusuke Aoki, 17 Nozomu Fujita, 18 Hitoshi Ono, 19 Itaru Taniguchi, 20 Atsushi Hiwasa, 21 Murray Williams, 22 Alisi Tupuailai.
Venue: North Harbour Stadium, Albany
Referee: Steve Walsh (Australia)
Assistant referees: Alain Rolland (Ireland)), Stuart Terheege (England)
TMO: Giulio De Santis (Italy)