France 33 USA 9
Now this was fun. France beat the USA 33-9, and scored five tries doing it, four of them utterly glorious. The last three came in the final 15 minutes, after this stubborn, spirited US team had pulled themselves back to within three of France’s lead. The French lived up to all your favourite old stereotypes. They were wretchedly flawed, recklessly indisciplined, and utterly fantastic whenever they could hold on to the ball. Much more of this and they might beat anyone in this World Cup, but then much more of this and they might just blow up.
In the first half the USA had the better of them in all sorts of ways. They had more of the territory, and more of the possession, and their well-drilled, powerful pack had a clear advantage at the lineout and scrum, where they won six out of eight including one against the head. Their problem was that in between all that, the French kept doing that thing they do. Or that thing they always used to. They took the lead with a try right out of rose-tinted memory.
One minute, the USA's Martin Iosefo was haring up the left wing chasing his own kick, the next, everything had flipped, and the French were flooding back at them. Their tighthead, Emerick Setiano, far too fast and fleet to be a prop, trampled through one tackle, their lock, Bernard Le Roux, broke another, and then, in the next phase, Camille Lopez eased a dainty little chip over the US defence for Yoann Huget to collect mid-stride as he sprinted to the tryline.
Lopez made their second, too, with another assist off his boot. It was a high cross-field kick this time, back against the grain of play, all the way to Alivereti Raka on the far wing. While their outhalf is in this form, the French will reckon their chances against any defence in the tournament. Where they struggled though, was with their discipline. They conceded eight penalties in the first half alone, some of them so cynical that they were lucky they only cost them six points, and not a spell or two in the sin-bin too. They tightened up in the second half, and improved their set-pieces too.
Still, the score was stuck like that, 12-6, right through the next 25 minutes. The French blew one good opportunity in that time when Sofiane Guitoune ended a dazzling run by hurling a wild forward pass to Raka out on the wing. Then AJ MacGinty kicked his third penalty to make it 12-9. That seemed to spur the French into life. They rolled down field after the restart, through 15 phases, before Gaël Fickou burrowed over from close range. Baptiste Serin picked up their fourth soon after, finishing off a merry spree of broken-field after another brilliant kick by Lopez to secure the bonus point and there was still time for a fifth from Jefferson Poirot.