Camille Lopez’s late drop-goal limped over the crossbar to save France and ensure they edged out Argentina in a thrilling World Cup opener in Pool C.
Les Bleus had come roaring out of the blocks in the first half, Gael Fickou and Antoine Dupont crossing to open up a 20-3 lead at the break.
But the second half belonged to the Pumas, Guido Petti and Julian Montoya both crossing before Benjamin Urdapilleta got to work from the kicking tee.
His second penalty with a quarter of an hour to go put the Pumas in front and threatened a famous fightback.
But Lopez climbed off the bench to save Jacques Brunel’s side – although they still needed Emiliano Boffelli to pull a late long-range effort wide to hold on for the win.
BLEUS IN THE FACE
After two predictably tearful and passionate anthems, the game started at a hundred miles an hour.
Ntamack, given the nod at No.10 ahead of Camille Lopez, started edgily, banging an up and under out on the full and then spilling one that came back his way moments later.
Agustin Creevy was popping everywhere and when Petti went charging through the middle, the Pumas almost had the game’s first try.
They had to settle for a penalty in the end from Nicolas Sanchez, who had earlier missed an early radar-setter.
But when France’s attack start to click, they produced rugby from the gods.
Medard at full-back was attacking from deep, offloading with impunity and soon their first try arrived.
It was the full-back’s flat pass that put Penaud clear down the right and when the ball was spread left, Virimi Vakatawa turned Pablo Matera inside out before feeding Fickou to dive over.
Ntamack drilled the extras from the touchline and France were off and running.
The second try came down the right, Fickou again involved before Penaud spun clear to put Dupont over.
Ntamack slotted the tough extras again for a 14-3 lead and the all-court France attacking game continued thereafter.
Penaud and Dupont worked a lovely one-two up the short side to win a penalty that Ntamack slotted and while the Pumas briefly threatened, a second penalty from the No.10 on the stroke of half time made it 20-3 to France at the interval.
PUMAS START TO PURR
The Pumas came roaring out of the blocks in the second half, knowing that they needed to turn the tide and fast.
The first try was soon to arrive, from a driving maul as Petti went over and then replacement hooker Montoya repeated the trick.
Sanchez slotted one of the two tough conversions to make it 20-15 before leaving the fray to be replaced by Urdapilleta.
And the Castres stand-off showed nerves of steel to slot two more penalties to put the Pumas 21-10 in front.
Penaud then limped off, bringing Lopez into the fray for a re-jigged back line with Fickou now on the wing.
And almost the fly-half’s first act was to mis-hit a drop goal that barely crept over the bar – not pretty but pretty effective.
The drama was not finished there however, Ntamack missed a chance to bury the Pumas and then with the clock expiring Boffelli’s long-range effort curled wide to the left.
France held on to secure the win that keeps them on course for the knockout stages and on a collision course with England next month in Yokohama.
What else? Lopez had barely been on the pitch more than a matter of moments. But he grasped the nettle, dropped back into the pocket and although he could have struck his drop goal sweeter, it mattered not as it limped over the bar to give France the win.
Ntamack pulled the strings to near-perfection in the first half.
His centre pairing of Fickou and Vakatawa – the latter a surprise inclusion for the injured Wesley Fofana – really caught the eye and that was down to Ntamack’s vision and range of passing.
He also kicked his goals confidently, before his final effort that faded wide, and cleaned up defensively in the second half when the Pumas threatened.