Analysis: Job done but France with room for improvement

France made heavy weather of it but the overall objective was achieved in a 33-9 victory over the USA in Fukuoka.

France made heavy weather of it but the overall objective was achieved in a 33-9 victory over the USA in Fukuoka.

Despite the conditions and 12 changes to the team, Jacques Brunel was hoping for a better performance from his team, but in the last quarter of an hour they were able to avoid a potentially disastrous defeat and even come away with the bonus point.

The introduction of Baptiste Serin appeared to reverse the momentum of the game, with France leading just 12-9 when he entered the fray and starting to look a little nervy.

The scrum-half was able to raise the tempo of the game, and as soon as Gaël Fickou went over for the third French try on 67 minutes, it appeared to lift a weight off Les Bleus.

And yet, they will need to be much improved when they face Tonga in Kumamoto in four days’ time to avoid being dragged into another dogfight.

That game was the reason there were so many changes here, and early on it looked like a masterstroke as France eased into a 7-0 lead after just six minutes.

Camille Lopez had talked about using and abusing the tactical kicking game, and that was clearly obvious in the first half-hour as he set up both early French tries.

The first was from a little chip into space that Yoann Huget collected and sprinted through to score.

And later on he produced a stunning cross-kick over Martin Iosefo that hit Alivereti Raka in stride.

At 12-3 France were looking strong, the experience in the side to the fore and half the job done.

Indiscipline was proving an issue however, Les Bleus conceding eight penalties in the first half alone as they struggled to create further chances.

The first 20 minutes of the second half proved even more problematic, until Serin’s appearance, and the scrum-half finished off the bonus-point try ten minutes from time, again thanks to a Lopez cross-kick to Raka.

The problem for France was what came in between. Aside from the indiscipline, they struggled for quick ball as the Americans caused them all sorts of problems at the breakdown.

And where the USA had been deficient against England, in the scrum and defending the rolling maul, they were much better here. Early in the second half they were even able to rip one from French hands five metres from the line after Les Bleus had turned down an easy three points.

The rolling maul has been an issue for France in each victory so far, both as an attacking weapon and in terms of finding a way to defend it. They did not concede a try here, but the USA were able to milk penalties in that area of the game. France at least finished strongly with a score from a maul for Jefferson Poirot.

Handling errors will also be a concern, even though the conditions certainly played a part with a particularly slippery ball in the humidity.

But Brunel was keen to point out that for the second game running, the bench made the difference. After Lopez’s late drop goal against Argentina, this time the likes of Serin, Sébastien Vahaamahina and Grégory Alldritt all made a difference after coming on.

Brunel said: “The bench had an impact. In close games like this, that’s what we expect of them. It was the same against Argentina.”

That will be important with a view to the game against Tonga. France have done enough in both games so far to sit on nine points.

If results go their way, a win against Tonga on Sunday could even clinch a spot in the quarter-finals.

And yet there is a feeling that this team is capable of playing much better. To make it through to the last eight, they will have to.