Free-running Japan earn respect of France
AUCKLAND, 11 Sept. - France coach Marc Lièvremont is demanding greater consistency from his side after a see-saw victory over Japan in their Pool A opener on Saturday.
Although satisfied that Les Bleus bounced back from a second-half scare to seal a 47-21 bonus-point win at North Harbour Stadium, he wants improvements against their next opponents Canada.
"I want to remember the victory," said Lièvremont. "I wanted consistency, and there I was not satisfied. It's not too much of a worry because we won, but it's a warning. We can and we owe it to ourselves to do better."
With a large and loud portion of the crowd behind them, France began on the front foot with their strong scrum providing the platform for a 14-0 lead after 12 minutes, following tries by second row Julien Pierre and fly half Francois Trinh-Duc.
But it was not to last. Clumsiness, errant kicking and fouls on the ground checked their progress.
"We are ahead of them with two tries to nothing and, from then on, we stop creating opportunities, we stop playing together," said Lièvremont.
Sensing a chance, the exciting Japanese ran themselves back into contention and grabbed a try of their own through fly half James Arlidge. If his goal-kicking had not been so erratic the Brave Blossoms might have gone into break in a better position than 25-11 down.
After the restart they imposed a frantic pace on the game and another try by man-of-the-match Arlidge, who scored all Japan's points, helped to close the gap to 25-21.
"We knew they were fast but we had no idea they could be that fast," centre Aurélien Rougerie said. "Their forwards played well, they are very mobile. Had we known how to put the right strategy into place, it would have been easier for us."
His midfield partner Fabrice Estebanez suggested complacency was to blame. "We thought we were out of trouble and we stopped showing aggressiveness," he said.
Whatever the cause, Lièvremont decided change was the solution and threw Morgan Parra, Pascal Papé, Dimitri Szarzewski and Jean-Baptiste Poux into the fray.
The French focused on the basics again and found a lifeline, scoring three tries in the last 10 minutes to give the final score an undeserved complexion.
The margin of victory was a disappointment for Japan coach John Kirwan, who was keen to emphasise the positives of his side's heroic performance.
"It is important for us to show the world we are a competent team," he said. "Tonight was about exploding out on to the scene. We look at this game as if we are equals. We will wake up tomorrow disappointed."
His team certainly earned the respect of France captain Thierry Dusautoir. "They played a beautiful rugby, a dynamic rugby," he said. "The public loved them and they gave us a hard time. We can only congratulate them."