Analysis: Free-flowing France must forget faltering finale

France v Argentina – Rugby World Cup 2019_ Pool C
After coming through a nail-biter first up against Argentina, France can now attack Pool C at this Rugby World Cup with confidence restored.

After coming through a nail-biter first up against Argentina, France can now attack Pool C at this Rugby World Cup with confidence restored.

In a group that also contains England, they had no choice but to open up with a victory – so really it was mission accomplished despite their second-half wobble against the Pumas.

In a game of two halves, Les Bleus offloaded their way to a 20-3 half-time lead.

But in the second half, some weaknesses emerged – not least in their discipline and defence of the rolling maul.

And it took a drop goal from Camille Lopez ten minutes from time to seal the win. But there are overall plenty of positives to take.

In the opening stanza the three quarters, on paper at least lining up for the first time as a backline in blue, looked polished and powerful and long-established.

Flying winger Damian Penaud continues his stellar 2019, he led the way despite not scoring a try himself. It was his break down the right that led to Gael Fickou’s opener and then Penaud spun clear to feed Antoine Dupont for the second.

The Clermont wing has an ability to beat tackles that maybe only Cheslin Kolbe can match at this World Cup – and they have have searing straight line speed as well.

In the centres Fickou and Vakatawa looked comfortable and profited from some fine distribution from Romain Ntamack and Maxime Medard.

And then there was Dupont, still the heartbeat of this France side despite being closely watched by the Pumas defence. He somehow managed to wriggle clear for half-breaks, was always on the shoulder running clever support lines and delivered quickly from the base when France were humming in the first half.

A word too for Charles Ollivon, the Toulon back rower who has been out for a long time with injury and is just now re-finding his best level.

He finished the game with 50 metres made with ball in hand from three clean breaks and was near-perfect in defence with ten tackles made and only one missed.

The problem, as has often been the case over the last couple of years, is that France struggle to string a full performance together.

In the second half they were starved of ball. And while their defence largely held firm in open play – albeit with a little indiscipline thrown in – it was at the lineout that they really struggled.

In the second period they had no answer for the Pumas’ rolling maul – this will be a big work on for Jacques Brunel’s side but it is not an easy fix.

They can take some solace from the fact that not every side, even England who loom later in Pool C, are as adept as the Pumas at the rolling maul.

What is of more concern is the amount of territory and possession they gave up to the Pumas.

The Argentine forwards clearly had the upper hand and France could not lay a finger on the ball for huge swathes of the second half.

The domination was not as total as that first half in Dublin during the 2019 Guinness Six Nations, but it wasn’t far off.

The real positive for Brunel however is that, unlike the comeback loss to Wales earlier this year and against Scotland in the summer, this time France stood firm in the face of the onslaught.

Just a minute after seeing the Pumas take the lead in the final quarter, they produced a super response.

Camille Lopez – newly on the field for the injured Penaud – dropped back into the pocket and his drop goal limped over the bar.

Emiliano Boffelli’s long-range penalty notwithstanding after a moment of madness from Fickou, France were impressively untroubled in the final ten minutes.

And with almost ten days to rest and recover now before the USA on October 2, Brunel will look to make a few quick fixes – most notably at the maul while his half-backs will need to work out how to work their way back into a game when times are tough.