World Cup - France through despite Tonga shock

Sat, 01 Oct 07:58:00 2011

France limped into the quarter-finals after a 19-14 defeat at the hands of Tonga in one of the biggest upsets in World Cup history in Pool A in Wellington.

France lose to Tonga World Cup - 0

Tonga were much the better side, missing a raft of second-half chances to inflict a considerably larger defeat on a ragged and at times abysmal France.

They only managed the one try, scored in the first half by the dangerous Sukanaivalu Hufanga, while Vincent Clerc's injury-time score made the final result appear a little closer.

Securing the losing bonus point in injury time confirmed France's place in the knockout stage, but left coach Marc Lievremont with far more questions than answers.

France went into the game knowing that barring a disastrous result their quarter-final place was assured, but sought a confidence-boosting performance after a disappointing defeat at the hands of the All Blacks in their previous group game.

It looked as if the French, who persisted with the half-back pairing of Dmitri Yachvili and Morgan Parra for the match, had settled quickly when Yachvili knocked over a second-minute penalty.

But Tonga's patient, physical play was rewarded with a penalty of their own five minutes later, and Kurt Morath levelled.

From there the Pacific islanders grew in composure, and showing more creativity and imagination, with Taniela Moa and Morath particularly impressive behind an imposing forward pack.

Moa's chipped kick for Hufanga could so easily have led to the opening try had the winger not been half a step offside.

France had their moments, and Yachvili pushed them ahead again with a penalty under the posts after an extended visit to the Tongan 22.

But Tonga's pressure told, with Morath's vision and kick creating a chance for Hufanga. Julien Bonnaire missed his tackle, and Thierry Dusautoir could not prevent the winger from crossing for the line.

Tonga survived a French counter-surge to end the half, but at a cost - Kisi Pulu suffered a nasty head blow holding up the ball on the line, while Hufanga went into the sin-bin for a dangerous tackle.

But despite the man advantage, France were poorer still after the interval.

Passes went missing, attacks lacked purpose and basic errors undermined every facet of the game.

Tonga had all the possession and territory, but failed to capitalise. It was Yachvili who added the first points of the half, kicking a penalty after a high tackle from Alisona Taumalolo.

Morath struck another two penalties to extend the lead put the game beyond France, but other chances went begging for the minnows, who required four tries and a bonus-point win to have any hope of advancing at France's expense.

Repeatedly they sliced through the French defence, but could not score the crucial try.

With France's Fabrice Estebanez also yellow-carded for a dangerous tackle, Siale Piutau got within a couple of metres of the line, only to pick the wrong pass to Viliame Iongi on one occasion. Later Samiu Vahafolau also came incredibly close to scoring in the final five minutes, while a drive for the line soon after was referred upstairs but the ball was shown not to have been grounded.

In the end it was France who did score, with Clerc dipping in at the corner, but not before the game was long gone, and with it any hope of salvaging some pride from a bruising encounter.

SCORING TIMELINE

2' Yachvili penalty - France 3-0

7' Morath penalty - France 3-3

24' Yachvili penalty - France 6-3

26' Hufanga try - France 6-8

28' Morath conversion - France 6-10

35' Morath penalty - France 6-13

50' Yachvili penalty - France 9-13

66' Morath penalty - France 9-16

72' Morath penalty - France 9-19

82' Clerc try - France 14-19

Mark Patterson - follow on Twitter: @markjpatterson / Eurosp

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