TOKYO (AFP) – France produced some good rugby before almost losing the plot and had to survive a last-gasp penalty to pip Argentina 23-21 in their World Cup opener yesterday.
Fly-half Romain Ntamack paced a schizophrenic French performance with 10 points as the three-time finalists hung on to win a pulsating Pool C clash in Tokyo and leave the Pumas staring into the abyss in the tournament’s so-called ‘group of death’.
Argentina, who will now likely need to beat England to avoid an early exit, almost pulled off an astonishing comeback after being sent into battle by an emotional rallying cry from football legend Diego Maradona.
Trailing by 17 points at half-time, they fell just short after a last-minute penalty from Emiliano Boffelli sailed just wide, allowing France to claim a crucial victory.
“I thought the game was finished, I thought we’d lost the game,” admitted France captain Guilhem Guirado, referring to the late penalty Australian referee Angus Gardner awarded to Argentina.
“But I am very proud of my boys. It was a tough game tonight but we are very happy to start the competition with a win.”
A cagey opening was punctuated by some bone-shuddering tackles from both sides, Argentine fly-half Nicolas Sanchez sent sprawling by prop Jefferson Poirot in a monster collision.
Lock Guido Petti was a one-man wrecking crew for the Pumas in the early skirmishes and his bulldozing run led to a 15th-minute penalty that Sanchez slotted over to put the 2015 semi-finalists on the board first.