France book their place in the last eight with a narrow win over the Tongans in Kumamoto

2019 Rugby World Cup: France 23-21 Tonga

Head-to-head

Played – 6

France wins – 4

Tonga wins – 2

Did You Know?

  • Sione Kalamafoni and Siale Piutau played in their 11th World Cup match, equalling the Tonga record of Soane Tonga’uiha and Vunga Lilo.
  • France picked a different half-back pairing for the third time in three matches at RWC 2019, with Baptiste Serin and Romain Ntamack selected at nine and ten respectively.
  • Tonga wing Cooper Vuna is the only player at RWC 2019 who has played for two international teams. His first two caps were for Australia.

Related: Rugby World Cup Fixtures

2019 Rugby World Cup: France v Tonga

Pride: Tonga perform the Sipi Tau at Kumamoto Stadium (Getty Images)

In a nutshell

There was no repeat of Tonga’s win in 2011 and this victory means France maintain their record of always making the World Cup quarter-finals – the only Six Nations team to do so – but the islanders gave them a stern test in Kumamoto.

Tonga outscored the French three tries to two, put on pressure with their big ball-carriers and powerful scrum, and came away with a losing bonus point.

France may have had two tries denied by the TMO and they still got the win, but they will need to improve before facing England next weekend if they want to top Pool C. There were too many periods in this match where their intensity dropped, ill-discipline creeped in and Tonga capitalised.

At the start it looked like France might run away with this match as it didn’t take long for France’s Fijians to make an impact. Alivereti Raka flummoxed defenders as he broke down the wing and then offloaded inside for Virimi Vakatawa to score under the posts inside six minutes.

Related: What Alivereti Raka brings to France

With the conversion and an earlier penalty for Romain Ntamack, France led 10-0 and looked sharp. Their smart kicking game ensured they dominated possession and were able to put on pressure following a couple of errors at Tongan lineouts.

Knock-ons didn’t help their cause as they looked to increase their lead, but some quick thinking from Baptiste Serin after a free-kick at a scrum around the half-hour mark did. The scrum-half took a quick tap, fed the ball wide to Raka, the winger kicked ahead and beat Cooper Vuna to the ball to roll over and score.

2019 Rugby World Cup: France v Tonga

Big cheer: Tonga players celebrate Sonatane Takulua’s try (Getty Images)

Tonga hit back before the break, though. With their second scrum penalty, they kicked for touch in France’s 22 and worked their way up to three metres out through the forwards. The pick-and-goes continued as they worked their way close to the line and Sonatane Takulua dummied to pass before diving over to ground the ball on the line. His conversion narrowed the gap to 17-7 at the half-time.

And they stepped it up a gear at the start of the second period too. Another scrum penalty led to a lineout in France’s 22 and they made it close to the line before being pinged themselves for holding on.

France then went over through Charles Ollivon following a clever lineout play between the No 8 and Camille Chat, but a clear forward pass from Sebastien Vahaamahina was spotted by the TMO and the try ruled out.

And then Tonga scored a great counter-attacking try. Pouncing on a loose ball as France attacked close to their 22, Takulua fed James Faiva and the fly-half flicked it on before the ball reached Cooper Vuna, who broke down the wing and then kicked ahead.

Maxime Medard let the ball bounce – bad idea when it bounced away from him and fell for Malietoa Hingano. The Tonga centre is not the biggest but he powered over near the posts to the delight of his team-mates.

France realised a repeat of 2011 could be on the cards and quickly opted for the posts from a couple of penalties to widen the gap once more.

Raka looked like he might get in for a second try in the 66th minute as he chased his own kick down the wing and secured the ball a few metres out from the line, but he was then penalised for holding on.

France were denied another try when Damian Penaud crossed after Telusa Veainu had been held up in a maul in the 22 and French defenders had ripped the ball – but it was then ruled out by the TMO for a knock-on in the previous phase.

Tonga had the final say when they went for a lineout in the 22 from a penalty and skipper Siale Piutau’s strong run took them towards the line before Leon Fukofuka’s cross-field kick fell perfectly for Zane Kapeli to cross in the 78th minute. Latiume Fosita’s conversion narrowed the gap to two points but France were able to secure possession from the restart to avoid an embarrassing defeat.

Given their performance, though, it was little wonder the Tongans were given a standing ovation by the crowd as they toured the stands.

Star man

Siale Piutau deserves a mention for his 80-minute shift in midfield and particularly his angled run towards the line that led to Zane Kapeli’s late try, but Alivereti Raka made the difference in this match. It was his try and assist that built the first-half lead and ultimately delivered the win. He is so difficult to stop with ball in hand.

2019 Rugby World Cup: France v Tonga

Hard runner: Alivereti Raka makes ground for France (Getty Images)

Related: Rugby World Cup TV Coverage

The Reaction

France coach Jacques Brunel: “We wanted to get a bigger score but it was difficult against this opponent because of our handling errors. Therefore I guess we need to go back to basics and get more territory.”

Tonga coach Toutai Kefu: “We didn’t start the game as well as we thought we would, which was very similar to last week. At half-time the boys realised even though we had played poorly, we were still in the game and we had 40 minutes to turn that around.

“Mentally we had a mindset change in the second half. We’re finishing well, but it’s definitely an issue for us (starting slowly). I thought we were the physically poorer team in the first half.”

The Teams

France: Maxime Medard; Damian Penaud, Virimi Vakatawa (Pierre-Louis Barassi 67), Sofiane Guitoune, Alivereti Raka; Romain Ntamack (Camille Lopez 67), Baptiste Serin (Antoine Dupont 54); Jefferson Poirot (captain, Cyril Baille 53), Camille Chat (Guilhem Guirado 60), Rabah Slimani (Emerick Setiano 53), Paul Gabrillagues, Sebastien Vahaamahina (Bernard Le Roux 53), Wenceslas Lauret, Charles Ollivon, Gregory Alldritt (Yacouba Camara 62).

Tries: Vakatawa 6, Raka 32. Cons: Ntamack 2. Pens: Ntamack 3.

Tonga: Telusa Veainu; Cooper Vuna, Malietoa Hingano, Siale Piutau (captain), David Halaifonua (Atieli Pakalani 67); James Faiva (Latiume Fosita 67), Sonatane Takulua (Leon Fukofuka 60); Siegfried Fisiihoi (Vunipola Fifita 65), Paula Ngauamo (Sosefo Sakalia 57-62), Ma’afu Fia (Siua Halanukonuka h-t), Sam Lousi (Daniel Faleafa 72), Leva Fifita (Daniel Faleafa 61-70), Sione Kalamafoni, Zane Kapeli, Maama Vaipulu (Nasi Manu 62).

Tries: Takulua 39, Hingano 47, Kapeli 78. Cons: Takulua 2, Fosita.

Follow our Rugby World Cup homepage which we update regularly with news and features.

Also make sure you know about the GroupsWarm-upsDatesFixturesVenuesTV CoverageQualified Teams by clicking on the highlighted links.

Finally, don’t forget to follow Rugby World on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.