Hosts France followed up their opening night win over the All Blacks with a shock defeat to Uruguay in their second World Cup game on Thursday, missing out on the bonus points as they struggled in a passionate team in South America.
Last week’s rip-roaring win over three-time winners New Zealand was always a tough act to follow for the hosts, but few expected them to struggle against Uruguay, one of the lowest ranked teams in the tournament, setting a challenging scene at the Stade Pierre-Mauroy in Lille.
France coach Fabien Galthié made wholesale changes to the home side, opting to rest the likes of Gregory Alldritt, Gael Fickou, Charles Ollivon and captain Antoine Dupont. But he warned his players not to show complacency, saying that Uruguay had “big heart” and “a lot of energy and aggression”.
That warning turned out to be an understatement.
Uruguay made their tournament debut in France, four years after they started their 2019 World Cup in Japan with a memorable win over Fiji. While matching that feat on Thursday was an impossible ask, the inspired visitors gave the French a scare, trailing the home favorites at one point midway through the second half.
For all their limitations, particularly in the scrum, Uruguay appeared to have a real spring in their step, earning a well-deserved ovation from the home crowd. Solid in defence, they proved inventive and brave with ball in hand – although they never had enough of it.
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The 49,000-strong crowd in Lille, a northern city more used to football than rugby, was less than impressed by France’s performance, earning a few boos and whistles amid a rousing rendition of the Marseillaise.
Coach Galthié made 12 changes to the starting XV that sent New Zealand a week ago, and the substitutes did not rise to the occasion. In Dupont’s absence, they were captained by Anthony Jelonch, who made a miraculous comeback since tearing his anterior cruciate ligament in February.
Uruguay’s scrum struggled from the start, giving the hosts an early penalty that fly-half Melvyn Jaminet had no problem converting. But it was the reluctant visitors who claimed the first try, with Felipe Etcheverry lobbing the French defense with a beautiful kick wide that Nicolas Freitas grounded on the line to put Uruguay is ahead.
It was unlikely to be the lead for Los Teros – as Uruguay know it – and the hosts were soon back in front, courtesy of a fine piece by scrum-half Maxime Lucu who sent Antoine Hastoy in line for trial in France.
Jaminet’s conversion was followed by another penalty when Uruguay broke the scrum, again, but France’s momentum was halted after Romain Taofifenua was fouled for a shoulder-blow to the face of Arata, whose low move saved the Frenchman. to upgrade to red.
Moments later, Etcheverry broke through a gap in the French defense and dived towards the line, only for the match officials to annul the attempt after seeing obstruction in the build-up. With Taofifenua back on the pitch, it was France’s turn to squander scoring opportunities as Uruguay’s defense held firm, leaving the visitors trailing by just 8 points at half-time.
The South Americans showed more intent after the break. They were unlucky not to score after Amaya broke through the French defense line and raced down the pitch, only to be squeezed at the end.
There were whistles in the stands when the hosts opted to kick – and miss – a penalty from 50 yards out rather than try, and there were boos when the restless Amaya raced past two defenders to score. in the second test in Uruguay. It was good work by Uruguay, but their best efforts were undone moments later when a rushed kick by Etcheverry deflected off one of his teammates, allowing Peato Mauvaka to take over in the easiest tests.
France, who struggled for discipline all night, were still unable to dominate and managed just one try, with 20-year-old Louis Bielle-Biarrey, who became Les Bleus’ youngest player in a World Cup. . Minutes later, Sekou Macalou had a bonus-point attempt denied, and it was a fair conclusion to an entertaining game in which the hosts conceded a miserable 15 penalties.
“There was a lot of disappointment. We would have liked to put in a better performance,” commented France lock Cameron Woki after the match, describing the high number of penalties conceded as “unacceptable”. “I think we are a bit relaxed in the minds of the opponents,” he added. “We have to move that.”
Uruguay captain Andres Vilaseca, meanwhile, was beaming with pride, inspired by a spirited performance witnessed by the country’s president, Luis Lacalle Pou, from the stands.
“I am very proud of my team. I couldn’t ask for a better team to lead,” he said. “Today, 10 minutes left in the game, we are fighting against France, one of the best teams in the world, playing in their homeland. This is just the beginning for us.”