Three-time Rugby World Cup runner-up France managed to get off to a winning start in the tournament’s 2019 edition with a nail-biting, 23-21 victory over Argentina in their first Pool C game at Tokyo Stadium on Saturday.
France took control of the game in the first half and entered halftime with a commanding 20-3 lead. But the game was far from over. Argentina scored three straight times, including two tries from mauls, to pull within 20-18 in the 60th minute.
The South Americans drove their loyal fans at the stadium even crazier by taking a 21-20 lead on a penalty goal in the 68th minute. But Les Bleus quickly retrieved their lead a minute later when Camille Lopez nailed a clutch drop goal.
In the final minute, Argentina tried to go ahead with a long penalty goal attempt by Emiliano Boffelli from halfway. The kick was strong enough but sailed outside of the poles, and the game concluded shortly thereafter.
“Obviously, we are relieved with this result,” France head coach Jacques Brunel said after the game, which drew a packed house of 44,040. “But we are not fully satisfied because we left a few things that we did not perform well enough. But I think those are going to get better going forward.”
Argentina fell short in its attempt to complete the biggest comeback win in RWC history. In 2015, Romania notched a 15-point comeback victory over Canada, and it remains in the record book.
If not completely, the first half belonged to France. After Argentina got on the scoreboard on a penalty goal, France scored a pair of tries to build a 17-point lead in the first half.
Argentina responded by playing a lot better in the latter half.
But too many missed tackles also affected the Pumas’ comeback hopes. They had 24 missed tackles, exactly twice as many as France.
Argentina captain and flanker Pablo Matera regretted that his squad didn’t play consistently well for the entire match.
“It’s a bitter feeling,” Matera said. “We couldn’t do anything in the first 40 minutes and finally showed up in the second half. If we hadn’t given up the deficit we gave up in the first half, I believe the game would’ve been played differently.”
Matera said that his team will need to continue to compete the way it did in the second half against France in its upcoming contests.
“We would like to win our remaining three (pool) games playing as we did in the second half today,” the 26-year-old said. “We can’t afford to make mistakes like we did today.”
It was the first time France beat Argentina at the World Cup since the 1999 edition, when it posted a 47-26 win. Meanwhile, Argentina has now lost its 10th straight games including test matches.
France next takes on the United States in Fukuoka on Oct. 2 while Argentina travels to Higashiosaka, Osaka Prefecture, to face Tonga next Saturday.