Take Six: France survive to make the last eight

France v Argentina – Rugby World Cup 2019_ Pool C
Jacques Brunel’s side are into the quarter-finals after Sunday’s thrilling win over Tonga.

Jacques Brunel’s side are into the quarter-finals after Sunday’s thrilling win over Tonga.

They made another bright start, Alivereti Raka and Virimi Vakatawa combining to deadly effect as they opened up a 17-7 first-half lead.

But Tonga hung tough and made Les Bleus fight until the final whistle to secure a 23-21 victory that puts them into the last eight.

They join Pool C rivals in the last eight and are on a collision course for their old rivals in Yokohama next weekend.

And head coach Brunel believes that game will help his team in the build-up to their last eight clash.

He said: “What is most important is qualification. That was our first objective: it wasn’t easy in a tricky pool.

“There were tests to pass, and we passed them, sometimes with difficulty but we passed them. Today, there was another one, and we passed it.

England were the first team to book their quarter-final spot on Saturday night with a routine win over Argentina.

The early red card to Tomas Lavanini ended the game as a contest and England effectively cruised from there.

But Jack Nowell and Mako Vunipola made their injury returns in the second half to give Eddie Jones a real boost.

Vunipola said: “I had a fear that could be it when I had the scan and the results back. The specialist made it clear up and I’m just happy to be here and get a game under my belt.

“I lost a bit of weight, the staff and coaches have been outstanding. I feel like I’m in the best shape of my life, body weight-wise, but match fitness is a long way to go. When I came in pre-season I was 125kg, now I’m 122, it goes up and down. It fluctuates, I get a bit too excited and then eat too much.

“The medical staff has looked after me well enough and if they need me to start I am confident I can do a job for the team. Whatever my role is for the team I have to contribute.”

Ireland need a bonus-point win against Samoa to guarantee themselves a quarter-final spot from Pool A.

The defeat to Japan clearly shook up the squad, including young winger Jacob Stockdale.

But the Ulster man has been picking the brain of a man who has been there and done it all before in order to keep thigs in perspective.

He said: “I was chatting to Earsly (Keith Earls) before the Russia game and he was saying about how much pressure he felt in 2015. This time around, he’s not letting that get to him. He’s just going out and enjoying his rugby. That’s kind of what I took from that.

“You get really wound up about not putting in the perfect performance or not having the perfect game every week. That pressure can build to a point where it takes control of you, or you can just go out and enjoy your rugby and be confident in your ability.

“If you play to the game plan that the coaches and the leadership group have created, nine times out of 10 that’s a much better way to do it.”

Scotland face the daunting prospect of two games in four days to finish off Pool A.

First they face Russia on Wednesday where anything less than a bonus-point win will not suffice before a crunch clash with Japan in Yokohama on Sunday.

The short turnaround means some players will have to double up as Scotland look to breathe life into their bid for the knockout rounds.

Japan’s late bonus-point win over Samoa this weekend made their life harder still – but Zander Fagerson is feeling confident.

He said: “We have Russia first and if we don’t get the job done against Russia there is no point in even thinking about Japan because we need those five points. Everything is focused on Russia and getting that bonus-point win.

“If the opportunity (to play both games) arises I will grasp it with both hands. To be at a World Cup is a great achievement but you are only halfway there. I want to play as much as I can.

“I have done a few Junior World Cups and know the four-day turnaround quite well. Of course, international rugby is a lot more physical than the U20s, but most pools have had one of these games. It is part and parcel of the World Cup.

“Recovery is key, getting in the pool, keep stretching and being as professional as you can. If called upon to play both games, I will make sure I am in the right frame of mind and the right shape physically.”

Italy’s quarter-final hopes were dealt a serious blow by the Springboks on Friday night in Shizuoka.

The red card for Andrea Lovotti, who today was suspended for three games along with Nicola Quaglio, put paid to their hopes of a second-half surprise.

And it left lock David Sisi searching for positives.

He said. “There will be some reflection, but we will need to move on quickly because we are going to face the number one side in the world a week today.

“We’ve got a few battered and bruised bodies. We are going to use the time to recover well.

“The camp was pretty quiet. We’ve built towards that goal last night and we talk about moments in sport and unfortunately, we lost that moment and it has hit us pretty hard.

“Our performance is going to be everything for us now. I’ve watched the match back twice and we did some good things.

“Going against number one team is an even bigger challenge. To put in a performance that everyone back home is proud of is our goal number one.”

Wales are in control of Pool D after last weekend’s win over Australia, and have had a long break before they face Fiji on Wednesday.

Attack coach Stephen Jones is relishing working with two in-form fly-halves in Dan Biggar and Rhys Patchell.

But both will need to improve as the quarter-finals approach, according to Jones.

“I think if you look at certain aspects of our games against Australia, first-half we moved some ball quite well but we weren’t as clinical as we’d like to be.

“Second-half, Australia kept the ball and we were quite limited. From our attacking aspect we have certainly got factors we need to improve and we will improve on and that is the most satisfying aspect of our attacking game at the moment.”