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France cling on to beat Argentina in tense finish to World Cup Pool C opener

Jake Goodwill
France have put themselves in a strong position to qualify for the quarter-finals after beating Argentina - REUTERS

France held off a spirited second-half comeback from Argentina to win their World Cup Pool C opener 23-21 at the Tokyo Stadium.

Les Bleus looked in total control at 20-3 after tries from Gael Fickou and Antoine Dupont, with 20-year-old fly-half Romain Ntamack converting both before kicking two penalties.

However, the Pumas hit back soon after the restart when Guido Petti Pagadizavalgh bundled over from a line-out, before Argentina replacement hooker Julian Montoya touched down.

Penalties from Benjamin Urdapilleta then put Argentina ahead, before Camille Lopez's drop goal saw France edge through the closing stages.

Argentina had been aiming to repeat their shock victory over Les Bleus in the opening match of the 2007 World Cup in France, where they went on to reach the semi-finals.

After a cagey start, Nicolas Sanchez kicked a penalty wide in the 12th minute.

The Stade Francais fly-half, though, was soon off the mark when an offside in the French defensive line gave him another penalty opportunity in front of the posts.

France produced an instant response to score the opening try in the 16th minute.

Peato Vakatawa showed some great footwork before finding Fickou on a break down the left to go over. Ntamack, son of former France international Emile, made the conversion to put his side 7-3 in front.

Gael Fickou scored France's opening try of the World Cup Credit: AP

Les Bleus scored another flowing try when scrum-half Dupont finished off an impressive move in the corner.

Ntamack added a penalty to extend the advantage to 17-3 as the half-hour mark approached.

After Argentina failed to make the most of some sustained pressure, fly-half Ntamack continued to show a cool head to convert another penalty and send France into the break with a seemingly healthy 20-3 lead.

Argentina, though, reduced the deficit just two minutes into the second half following a well-worked line-out.

A long, high throw saw second-row Pagadizaval bundled over. Sanchez converted the angled kick to bring Argentina back within 10 points.

Argentina replacement hooker Julian Montoya came on to win his 50th cap - and made an instant impact from a driving maul to score after Pagadizaval had taken a line-out catch in the 54th minute.

Julian Montoya scored after being on the pitch for a matter of minutes Credit: Getty Images

While Sanchez missed the conversion chance, the Pumas continued their momentum.

After a breakaway opportunity was eventually halted, replacement Urdapilleta kicked a penalty, for an earlier infringement by Damian Penaud, to close the gap down to just two points.

France were starting to lose composure and lock Sebastien Vahaamahina gave away 10 yards for a push, which put the penalty in kicking range.

After a TMO review for Emiliano Boffelli's jumping challenge on Penaud, Castres Olympique fly-half Urdapilleta sent a left-foot effort over as Argentina edged in front 21-20.

France, though, produced an instant response when replacement Camille Lopez sent a drop-kick just over the bar, with Ntamack then missing a penalty chance.

There was still time for more drama as Urdapilleta saw his long-range kick drop just the wrong side of the posts as France held out - before tempers boiled over at full-time with some scuffles.

Match details

Medard (Ramos 61); Penaud (Lopez 68), Fickou, Vakatawa, Huget; Ntamack, Dupont (Machenaud 73); Poirot (Baille 68), Guirado (capt),(Chat 47), Slimani (Bamba 47), Ituuria (Le Roux 54), Vahaamahina, Lauret, Olivon, Alldritt (Picamoles 61)

Argentina

Boffelli; Moroni, Orlando, de la Fuente, Moyano (Carreras 46); Sanchez (Urdapilleta 57), Cubelli; Chaparro (Vivas 64), Creevy (Montoya 51), Figallo (Medrano 52), Pagadizaval, Lavanni (Alemanno 64), Matera (capt), Kremer, Desio (Lezana 60)

Referee: A Gardner (Aus) Attendance: 44,004

Scoring sequence: 0-3 Sanchez pen; 5-3 Fickou try, 7-3 Ntamack con; 12-3 Dupont try, 14-3 Ntamack con; 17-3 Ntamack pen; 20-3 Ntamack pen; 20-8 Ortega Desio try, 20-10 Sanchez; 20-15 Montoya try; 20-18 Urdapilleta pen; 20-21 Urdapilleta pen; 23-21 Lopez drop goal 

PA Sport Staff

 

10:15AM

Argentina Captain Pablo Matera's post match reaction 

 

10:07AM

Post-match debrief 

The cliche about France turned out to be true. Excellent in the first half, poor in the second. They showed fight in the second-half to hang on when the momentum was against then. France will cause England problems with their explosive backline. Penaud looks a world-beater.

Argentina will be pleased with their second-half but lacked much cutting edge in the backs. Scrum and lineout were strong but not too much else was. This result puts huge pressure onto Argentina. They will need a result against England to get out of the pool. 

10:03AM

FULL TIME: France 23 Argentina 21

France send the 22 drop-out as long as they can. Argentina carry back edging into the French half.

The ball is spilled and regathered by France. Lopez sends the ball into touch. Game over. 

A little scuffle breaks out as the final whistle goes.

10:00AM

79 min: MISSED PEN Boffelli France 23 Argentina 21

France secure possession and Maxime Machenaud clears. Fickou tackles the man in the air - just a penalty. Silly error.

Emiliano Boffelli lines the ball up from 50-metres out. Can he be the hero? 

No - the kick goes wide as the clock edges towards 80. One more phase.

 

9:58AM

77 min: MISSED PEN Ntamack France 23 Argentina 21

Both sets of coaches look extremely frustrated as they watch on, powerless at this point in the game.

France win a penalty and they opt to go for goal.

Ntamack pulls it wide. Poor attempt after some excellent kicking throughout the game. Pressure.

 

9:55AM

75 min: France 23 Argentina 21

The tension is building in Tokyo and the games returns to being rather scrappy.

Picamoles intercepts and France break down the left but the kick through trickles into touch off an Argentinian player.

France lose their lineout and Cubelli clears.

9:53AM

73 min: France 23 Argentina 21

France are in control of the ball on half-way as they try to slow the ball down. Knock-on and Argentina come away with the ball. Right idea, poorly executed.

France regain possession following an Argentine kick before Vakatawa is bundled into touch. 

Argentina lineout on half-way.

9:50AM

69 min: DROP GOAL Lopez France 23 Argentina 21

France gain the lead back immediately. Lopez with the calm drop-goal from outside the 22. That lead did not last long...

9:48AM

68 min: PEN Urdapellita 20 Argentina 21

Argentina kick in behind but the ball is cleaned up by France - just.

Penaud goes off injured after an aerial challenge that is now being reviewed by the TMO. Nothing comes of it.

Argentina win the penalty and go for goal. Urdapellita sends the ball through the posts with his left boot.

ARGENTINA LEAD with 12 minutes to go.

9:44AM

Biggest World Cup comeback?

 

9:41AM

64 min: 20 Argentina 18

Only two points in at now. Jacques Brunel sends on Louis Picamoles to get some momentum back. He instantly carries the ball back powerfully from a kick.

Possession swaps hand around half-way as both sides seek to gain territory in this tight match.

Scrum to Argentina.

9:38AM

59 min: PEN Urdapilleta France 20 Argentina 18

Argentina break from half-way down the left wing. Argentina then surge through the middle before an overlap is butchered. Penalty to Argentina for offside.

France could be in danger of getting a man sent to the sin-bin.

Benjamin Urdapellita, on for Sanchez, slots the penalty.

9:35AM

Argentina's driving maul is causing havoc 

A picture that sums up how Argentina have got back into this match Credit: Getty Images

 

9:32AM

53 min: MISSED CON Sanchez France 20 Argentina 15

Sanchez drags the conversion attempt wide. France clinging onto their lead as they send on reinforcements.

9:31AM

53 min: TRY Montoya France 20 Argentina 15

The penalty is kicked back into the corner - Argentina five metres out.

A maul is set-up and driven over the line by replacement Montoya. 

Huge momentum swing.

9:29AM

52 min: France 20 Argentina 10

Dupont clears the French lines. They need to establish some control back on this match.

Julian Montoya replaces Creevy at hooker for Argentina.

Argentina win a penalty for a lineout infringement committed by Artur Itturia. The ball is kicked to the corner where another driving maul is formed. 

Penalty advantage leads to an attempted cross-field kick. Back for the penalty. 

9:26AM

50 min: France 20 Argentina 10

Argentina now on the front foot and an attempted cross-field kick almost comes off. Penaud knocks the ball into touch.

Argentina drive the lineout before the forwards break off. Cubelli then throws a forward pass five metres out. Head coach Mario Ledesma has his head in his hands.

9:24AM

47 min: France 20 Argentina 10

Argentina win the penalty from the scrum. Utterly dominant against the head. 

France wisely make changes in the front-row. Camille Chat and Demba Bamba on.

9:23AM

45 min: France 20 Argentina 10

Chaos ensues from the restart as France regain the ball and chip in behind. The ball is cleared up by Argentina before Pablo Matera knocks the ball on in Argentina's 22.

The anonymous Ramiro Moyano is substituted for Santiago Carreras.

9:21AM

43 min: CON Sanchez France 20 Argentina 10

Sanchez adds the conversion. Just the start Argentina needed.

9:20AM

43 min: TRY Ortega Desio France 20 Argentina 8

Sanchez collects his own up and under as Argentina enter the French 22. Penalty awarded to Argentina for offside. This is more like it from the Pumas. 

They send the ball into the corner and drive the ball over the line for try. Ortega Desio flies over the French line.

Game on.

9:17AM

Second-Half begins: France 20 Argentina 3

The uphill battle for Argentina begins.

9:15AM

France coming into form just at the right time

 

9:10AM

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9:09AM

Damien Penaud is the leading candidate for Man of the Match at half-time

Damien Penaud has been the standout player in the match so far. Oozes class. Credit: Getty Images

 

9:05AM

Half-time: France 20 Argentina 3

France have been far the better side looking very dangerous with ball in hand. Argentina's scrum is the only ray of light in a bleak half. The Pumas need to find some inspiration at half-time.

Penaud has been excellent as has Ntamack's goal kicking despite not being a regular kicker for Toulouse.

This French performance looks ominous for England. The Argentinian performance not so much.

9:02AM

40 min: PEN Ntamack France 20 Argentina 3

Ntamack is on fire. Another slotted through the middle of the posts.

France in a very commanding position at half-time.

9:01AM

40 min: France 17 Argentina 3

France then win a penalty just outside their 22. A driving maul opens up space for Huget on the wing but the Pumas manage to turn the ball over. France regain possession and Virimi Vakatawa throws an outrageous offload to Penaud before the ball is knocked-on in the Argentina 22.

TMO Marius Jonker intervenes and rules that Tomas Cubelli put a high-shot on Huget. Penalty to France as the gong sounds for half-time.

 

8:58AM

37 min: France 17 Argentina 3

France are awarded a scrum penalty. Huge moment. Argentina judged to have stood up as they tried to drive the French back.

The Argentinians are livid.

8:56AM

35 min: France 17 Argentina 3

Another penalty to Argentina in the danger zone. The Pumas elect for a scrum. 

Argentina look dominant at scrum-time as more scrappy scrums fail to be completed. France clinging on here.

Another scrum reset. Just what the Japanese public came to see.

And another scrum reset.

8:53AM

32 min: France 17 Argentina 3

Argentina win a penalty straight from the kick-off in France's 22. They send the ball into the corner and win the lineout.

France penalised again - for entering the ruck from the side - and the ball is put into touch on the five-metre line again. A driving maul is formed and Creevy almost gets over the line before the ball goes to ground. Fickou knocked the ball on in the tackle and Argentina have an attacking scrum five metres out.

8:50AM

30 min: PEN Ntamack France 17 Argentina 3

Ntamack converts a penalty from 30-metres out extending the French lead. This is looking ominous for the Pumas.

8:48AM

29 min: France 14 Argentina 3

Gregory Alldritt breaks from the base of the scrum before the French go wide. Penaud once again beating defender with ease - he looks electric.

France knock the ball on in Argentina territory. 

8:46AM

28 min: France 14 Argentina 3

A number of scrums go to ground and are reset eventually resulting in an Argentine free-kick. 

Sanchez sends the ball skywards and the ball is claimed by France before being held-up. Back to the scrummaging then. 

8:44AM

Gael Fickou opens France's try scoring account at this World Cup

Gael Fickou scores France's first try of the tournament Credit: AP

 

8:42AM

24 min: France 14 Argentina 3

France are running riot. Penaud makes another break down the right wing before the ball is spilled in the middle of the field.

Argentina need to regroup quickly. 

8:41AM

22 min: CON Ntamack France 14 Argentina 3

Another conversion from the touchline is slotted - this time from the other side of the pitch,

8:40AM

22 min: TRY Dupont France 12 Argentina 3

Argentina claim their own box kick before sending an up and under into the Tokyo sky. The ball is claimed by the French who are now making metres easily.

France break from the 22 to score in the corner. Medard goes down the short side where he finds Penaud who beats a defender before offloading up to Antoine Dupont who finished in the corner.

8:37AM

18 min: CON Ntamack France 7 Argentina 3

Ntamack slots the conversion from the touch line. 

8:36AM

18 min: TRY Fickou France 5 Argentina 3

France collect the ball from the kick-off and put the ball in behind but over the goal-line. 22 drop-out Argentina.

France attack after Medard throws a lovely ball to Damien Penaud who makes a break. France move the ball to other side of the pitch where Fickou beats a scrambling defender to score in the corner.

8:33AM

15 min: PENALTY Sanchez France 0 Argentina 3

Argentina break through Guido Petti who barrels through the French defence. 

Argentina attack five metres out before spilling the ball. The French were offside and a simple penalty in front of the posts is slotted by Sanchez.

8:30AM

12 min: France 0 Argentina 0

More errors in the middle of the park. A late shot from Gael Fickou not deemed worthy of penalisation.

Argentina win another scrum penalty just inside the French half.

Sanchez chooses to go for goal and misses a very kickable penalty.

8:26AM

8 min: France 0 Argentina 0

Both sides fail to claim box kicks cleanly. Ntamack knocks the ball on into touch giving Argentina a lineout bang on half-way.

Sanchez then gets hammered by Jefferson Poirot who did not buy the fly-half's dummy.

France turn the ball over and move into Argentina's half before knocking the ball on. Error strewn match so far.

8:22AM

5 min: France 0 Argentina 0

Scrum penalty to Argentina. Strong start from Juan Figallo. 

Argentina win the resulting lineout from the penalty. Augustin Creevy leads the charge in the midfield before Nicolas Sanchez kicks the ball straight into touch. One apiece for the fly-halves.

8:20AM

3 min: France 0 Argentina 0

An intercept in the French midfield gives them an opportunity to attack but the ball is knocked-on on the Argentine 22.

8:18AM

1 min: France 0 Argentina 0

Maxime Medard makes a half-break from an Argetine box kick. France go through the phases around half-way before Ntamack sends the ball directly into touch. Nervy start.

8:17AM

Kick-off!

Angus Gardner gets us underway. Here we go!

8:13AM

5 minutes to kick-off

Many are seeing this contest as a battle for second in this group but both sides are very capable of causing an upset against England.

The national anthems blare out around Tokyo Stadium. The Argentine kit looks as crisp as ever. 

8:08AM

Team News

France are without injured centre Wesley Fofana, while Alivereti Raka is left out. Romaine Ntamack starts at fly-half ahead of Camille Lopez. 

Argentina go with an expected side captained by Pablo Matera. The decision to leave Santiago Cordero and Facundo Isa out of the squad will either be justified or brought under scrutiny following today's match.

7:55AM

Fantasy Rugby: Your last chance to pick a team

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7:49AM

Let the second match of Super Saturday begin

Good morning everyone and welcome to Telegraph Sport's live coverage of the 2019 Rugby World Cup from Japan.

France face Argentina in this Pool C clash which will be vital in determining who progresses to the knockout stages of the tournament.

This match is taking place in Tokyo Stadium which also hosted the World Cup opener which saw Japan defeat a spirited Russia side. 

Both of these teams come into the tournament as somewhat unknown quantities. France have a hugely talented squad but have been inconsistent from game to game. The French had a mixed pre-tournament warm-ups winning one and losing one to Scotland. But this France side is beginning to look more settled and have been tipped by many as dark horses.

Argentina started out the Rugby Championship with much promise, narrowly losing to New Zealand in the final minute, but struggled from that point onward. Unusually the Argentine scrum looked vulnerable and the hope of success at this World Cup, following the excellent Super Rugby season that the Jaguares had, has disappeared.

Unusually for France and Argentina, the backlines look more formidable than the packs which bodes well for an exciting contest.

You can find out more about both of these teams, including men to watch out for, in our comprehensive team-by-team guides.

An absorbing contest between Australia and Fiji started the morning off and will be a tough act to follow. But with both sides packed with box-office individuals another enticing game awaits. All before the small matter of New Zealand vs South Africa to wrap up this most glorious of rugby days.