France eased to a 42-17 win over the Pacific Islands on Saturday, but the match was marred by an appalling challenge on Jean-Baptiste Elissalde by Napolioni Nalaga, which saw the Fijian sent off and Elissalde stretchered off unconscious.
The Islanders started the game with confidence, clearly believing that tempo and physicality might rattle the French. It yielded two early penalties for Seremaia Bai, sandwiching one by David Skrela.
The two Bai goals also sandwiched the lone danger moment of a nervy opening, when Elissalde's clever dart saw Banoit Baby held a hair's breadth short.
France soaked up the enthusiastic but limited movements of the Islanders, and set their stall out to grind their opposition down. They were clearly dominant in the tight set pieces, especially the scrum, and merely sat back for long periods waiting for their chance.
Then came a moment of utter madness and high unpleasantness. The monster-sized Napolioni Nalaga lined up Elissalde from a long way away and was unflinching in his run and hit on the diminutive scrum-half, even though Elissalde had long since cleared the ball. Elissalde was still receiving emergency treatment on the pitch long after Nalaga had been given his marching orders for the thoroughly disgusting tackle.
Skrela missed the penalty that followed, but it took France only six more minutes to press home their advantage, with Dimitri Szarzewski popping up on the end of two pieces of glorious acceleration from Cerdic Heymans and Julien Malzieu.
The Islanders' heads went down, and Elissalde's replacement Sebstien Tillous-Bordes scored the second just before the half-hour, passing to Heymans on the blind side and then looping to take a switch pass and round off a superb move. Skrela converted both quick-fire tries for a comfortable 17-6 cushion.
After a brief and breathless passage of play where both teams opted to run everything, the Islanders shut their game down at the end of the first half and were remarkably good at it, squeezing out two more penalties for Bai to make it 17-12 at the break.
The match lost much of its intensity after the break, and especially after Heymans had scored France's third courtesy of a quick handling move sparked by Thierry Dusautoir.
Skrela landed two more penalties as the French kept the pressure on up front, and the final ten minutes was marked with a flurry of scoring.
Louis Picamoles took his first pass, off Tillous-Bordes, to score with ten minutes to go, and then Maxime Médard scored his first international try after a break by Damien Traille. Skrela converted both.
Epi Taione scored a consolation try for the Islanders, barging Imanol Harinordoquy over the line.
Tries: Szarzewski, Tillous-Bordes, Heymans, Picamoles, Médard
Cons: Skrela 4
Pens: Skrela 3
For the Pacific Islands:
Pens: Bai 4
Red card: Nalaga (Pacific Islands, 18, dangerous tackle)
France: 15 Maxime Médard, 14 Julien Malzieu, 13 Yannick Jauzion, 12 Benoît Baby, 11 Cedric Heymans, 10 David Skrela, 9 Jean-Baptiste Elissalde, 8 Imanol Harnordoquy, 7 Fulgence Ouedraogo, 6 Thierry Dusautoir, 5 Lionel Nallet (c), 4 Romain Millo-Chluski, 3 Nicolas Mas, 2 Dimitri Szarzewski, 1 Lionel Faure.
Replacements:16 Benjamin Kayser, 17 Benoît Lecouls, 18 Sébastien Chabal, 19 Louis Picamoles, 20 Sebastien Tillous-Borde, 21 Damien Traille, 22 Alexis Palisson.
Pacific Islands: 15 Gavin Williams, 14 Napolioni Nalaga, 13 Seru Rabeni, 12 Epi Taione, 11 Vilimoni Delasau, 10 Seremaia Bai, 9 Mosese Rauluni (cap), 8 Nili Latu, 7 Sisa Koyamaibole, 6 Hale T-Pole, 5 Kele Leawere, 4 Paino Hehea, 3 Kisi Pulu, 2 Tanielu Fuga, 1 Kas Lealamanua .
Replacements: 16 Sunia Koto, 17 Census Johnston, 18 Filipo Levi, 19 Viliami Vaki, 20 Sililo Martens, 21 Kameli Ratuvou, 22 Seilala Mapusua
Referee: Nigel Owens (Ireland)
Touch judges: Wayne Barnes (England), Carlo Damasco (Italy)
TMO: Shaun Veldsman (South Africa)