France see off valiant Japan
October 18, 2003
France centre Damien Traille battles against a stout Japanese defence
© Getty Images
France cemented their position at the top of Pool B with an emphatic victory over Japan in Townsville - but the World Cup minnows gave Les Bleus a few worrying moments to give further indication that they are a team on the rise.
Japan troubled Scotland in their opening encounter Down Under before finally going down 32-11 and at one point they looked to be on course for the second victory of their World Cup history.
George Konia burst through in the 32nd minute and then Toru Kurihara slotted a penalty to drag the underdogs within a point but France upped the tempo after the break with tries from Fabien Pelous, Christian Dominici, Aurelien Rougerie and Jean-Jaques Crenca.
Japan drew first blood with a simple penalty from Kurihara but France edged ahead in the fifth minute, number eight Christian Labit making the initial inroads before the ball was recycled and fed to Frederic Michalak who strolled home.
The fly-half slotted the conversion and barely two minutes later Les Bleus extended their lead, winger Rougerie skipping around Kurihara's challenge and crossing under the posts for a fine converted try.
Kurihara made amends for his leaky defence shortly after by drumming over his second penalty following a searing break from Andrew Miller, but Michalak wrestled back the initiative for France with an easy three points.
It was not all one-way traffic - France were met by some robust defence from the underdogs - but Les Bleus looked in impressive form, using their forwards to punch holes up the middle before spinning the ball to their dangermen out wide.
Japan threatened in the 23rd minute when France's backline had all but disappeared only for Hirotoki Onozawa to over-run Konia's pass, ending a glorious chance to bag their first try of the match.
They could not be denied for long though as Laporte's back line neglected their defensive duties, Konia running a magnificent line onto Hideki Namba's pass to slice through Les Bleus' midfield for a try improved by Kurihara.
And the rampant Japanese went on to notch the final points of the half, Kurihara landing a penalty to serve notice to France that they were were in for a tough 40 minutes in the second half.
There was no immediate improvement after the break from France either as they continued to struggle in the face of Japan's brave resistance, a Kurihara penalty slicing the deficit to just one point.
But Les Bleus showed their class by hitting back in the 48th minute with a simple try -their pack rumbled within a couple of metres of the line before Fabien Galthie supplied the scoring pass to lock Pelous.
Dominici, Rougerie and substitute Crenca then went over as the floodgates opened but Japan kept on battling and richly deserved their 70th-minute try from Hirotoki Onozawa.
France: Poitrenaud, Rougerie, Marsh, Traille, Dominici, Michalak, Galthie, Milloud, Bru, Poux, Pelous, Brouzet, Betsen, Magne, Labit.
Replacements: Merceron for Michalak (70), Ibanez for Bru (53), Crenca for Poux (53), Auradou for Pelous (68), Chabal for Betsen (70).
Not Used: Jauzion, Elhorga.
Tries: Michalak, Rougerie 2, Pelous, Dominici, Crenca.
Cons: Michalak 5, Merceron.
Pens: Michalak 3.
Japan: Kurihara, Ohata, Konia, Nanba, Onozowa, Miller, Sonoda, Hasegawa, Sakata, Yamamura, Tanuma, Parker, Okubo, Miuchi, Ito.
Replacements: Kubo for Tanuma (43), Asano for Okubo (68).
Not Used: Yamamoto, Amino, Tauji, Motoki, Yoshida.
Tries: Konia, Ohata.
Cons: Kurihara 2.
Pens: Kurihara 5.
Ref: Alan Lewis (Ireland).