Preview: France v Tonga

Victory over Tonga could be enough to clinch a spot in the quarter-finals for France but when it comes to facing the Sea Eagles, Les Bleus know from experience that they cannot afford to be off their game.

Victory over Tonga could be enough to clinch a spot in the quarter-finals for France but when it comes to facing the Sea Eagles, Les Bleus know from experience that they cannot afford to be off their game.

Back in 2011 France were stunned 19-14 by Tonga in their final pool game, a defeat that served to get their tournament back on track according to lineout coach Julien Bonnaire who played in the back row that day.

This is a very different situation however, a slip-up would allow Argentina right back into the pool, so France cannot afford to be upset.

They were not entirely convincing against the USA, although they did eventually win 33-9, and Jacques Brunel has made 11 changes from that team with just four days between the games.

Jefferson Poirot becomes the third man to captain France at this World Cup, while Baptiste Serin is rewarded for his performance off the bench with a starting spot alongside Romain Ntamack.

Finally, Pierre-Louis Barassi will make his debut if he comes off the bench, the Lyon centre having come into the squad in place of Wesley Fofana earlier in the tournament.

Tonga, meanwhile, have had a bigger run-in to this game since their defeat to Argentina, with Toutai Kefu making just two changes from that team.

Cooper Vuna and Ma’afu Fia come into the side as Tonga look to create another piece of history and win their first game at this World Cup.

France v Tonga, Kumamoto Stadium, Kumamoto, Sunday October 6, Kick-off 8:45 BST

France coach Jacques Brunel:

“Tonga are perhaps a little less athletic than the USA, but they are definitely bigger. In fact, they are the biggest pack at this World Cup, they weigh more than a ton.

“We saw that they can use that power and are hard to move around. Argentina quickly opened up a lead but then could not find a way through. Tonga came back and could even have done better if they hadn’t had a try disallowed. England took a while to get a bonus point.”

Romain Ntamack on France debutant Pierre-Louis Barassi, with whom he won the World Rugby Under-20s Championship:

“He’s thrilled to be here so of course he’s happy to be on the bench on Sunday. He is locked in and listens to everyone. He is living in the present and cannot wait to get onto the pitch. We will do everything to put him in the best possible situation so he succeeds on debut.”

Tonga winger Cooper Vuna:

“We know the old boys did it in 2011. Now it’s down to us to pull off another upset.”

It would have been easy to think after France’s first game that the scrum-half hierarchy had been set with Antoine Dupont first choice and Maxime Machenaud as his back-up. However 15 minutes from Baptiste Serin against the USA, where he helped France turn a narrow 12-9 lead into a comfortable bonus-point success, may have upset the apple cart. Serin starts against Tonga and will hope to show enough to earn a spot in the 23 to face England next weekend. He will be up against Takulua, who is some ways is a very French type of scrum-half. He kicks at goal, is Tonga’s primary playmaker, and will carry most of their hopes on his shoulders. It should be a fascinating battle between the two.

France: 15. Maxime Médard, 14. Damian Penaud, 13. Virimi Vakatawa, 12. Sofiane Guitoune, 11. Alivereti Raka, 10. Romain Ntamack, 9. Baptiste Serin, 1. Jefferson Poirot (c), 2. Camille Chat, 3. Rabah Slimani, 4. Paul Gabrillagues, 5. Sébastien Vahaamahina, 6. Wenceslas Lauret, 7. Charles Ollivon, 8. Grégory Alldritt

Replacements: 16. Guilhem Guirado, 17. Cyril Baille, 18. Emerick Setiano, 19. Bernard le Roux, 20. Yacouba Camara, 21. Antoine Dupont, 22. Camille Lopez, 23. Pierre-Louis Barassi

Tonga: 15. Telusa Veainu, 14. Cooper Vuna, 13. Malietoa Hingano, 12. Siale Piutau (c), 11. David Halaifonua, 10. James Faiva, 9. Tane Takulua, 1.Sigfried Fisi’ihoi, 2. Paula Ngauamo, 3. Ma’afu Fia, 4. Sam Lousi, 5. Leva Fifita, 6. Sione Kalamafoni, 7. Zane Kapeli, 8. Maama Vaipulu

Replacements: 16. Sosefo Sakalia, 17. Vunipola Fifita, 18. Siua Halanukonuka, 19. Steve Mafi, 20. Nasi Manu, 21. Leon Fukofuka, 22. Latiume Fosita, 23. Atiele Palakani