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Dublin: 9°C Tuesday 18 May 2021


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Did you see this morning’s game in Auckland?

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FT: France 47-21 Japan

Rise and shine, all you beautiful people. Who’s so rugby-mad that you’ve foresaken your Saturday lie-in to watch France v Japan? Or (even better) who still hasn’t been to bed?

Auckland is the destination for this morning’s Pool A game. New Zealand won without being massively impressive against Tonga yesterday — can France lay down a marker for their rivals?

I’ll have the team news now in a second, don’t go anywhere.

Before I begin though, how about a round of applause for Mr Conor Nagle who ground out the hard yards for the two games in the wee hours of this morning?

That Scotland game sounds like it might have left a few well-bitten nails in its wake.

France: Heymans; Clerc, Rougerie, Estebanez, Medard; Trinh-Duc, Yachvili; Barcella, Servat, Mas; Pierre, Nallet; Dusautoir, Harinordoquy, Lakafia.

Japan: Webb; Endo, Taira, Nicholas, Onozawa; Arlidge, Tanaka; Hirashima, Horie, Hatakeyama; Thompson, Kitagawa; Kikutani, Leitch, Holani.

I’m not sure what Marc Lièvremont’s first-choice XV is — he probably doesn’t even know himself — but the team he has named has bags full of experience and is looking pretty strong if you ask me.

Predictions? Without disrespecting Japan, I think we might be about to see the first real hammering of the World Cup. With that in mind, I’ve gone for France (-41) to win. I don’t make a habit of gambling over breakfast, but watch as this spectacularly backfires.

The anthems are done and referee Steve Walsh gets us underway. Let’s play ball!

An explosive start. France work the ball to Estebanez quickly from the line-out and the centre picks out a hole in midfield and scampers clear. Only a crucial tackle from Japanese hooker Shota Horie saves the day, forcing Estabanez to knock the ball on in the tackle.

TRY! (Pierre, 5′) Well, that didn’t take long, did it? Lakafia breaks and is hauled down just short of the line, but his wayward pop finds its way to Julian Pierre who bundles over the line.

Yachvili adds the extras, and it’s France 7-0 Japan.

France are finding it way too easy to break the Japanese line in midfield. Yachvili is the latest to stroll through the non-existent defence, but his intended pass to Medard goes to ground. Sloppy handling.

MISSED PENALTY! Touch judge Alain Rolland signals for an offside, which gives Japanese out-half James Arlidge an excellent chance to put his side on the board. He looks a bit nervous though and drags his kick left and wide.

TRY! (Trinh-Duc, 12′) There’s another one. Japan try a little bit of creativity going forward and pay the price. Arlidge tries to execute a little loop move but Trinh-Duc reads it excellently and steps up to make the interception. Once he has the ball, there’s nobody home to stop him.

The conversion is simple for Yachvili. France 14-0 Japan

PENALTY! (Arlidge, 17′) Make no mistake, Japan have come to play. They win another penalty when a quick tap-and-go catches the French defence off guard, and this time Arlidge’s kick is spot on. France 14-3 Japan

PENALTY! (Yachvili, 20′) France have the Japanese scrum under a little bit of pressure for the first time and win a penalty out near the right touchline. Yachvili keeps his 100% record intact. France 17-3 Japan

Trinh-Duc kicks a penalty to within about ten yards of the Japanese line. Try time?

PENALTY! (Yachvili, 26′) No try this time — again, France’s handling could have been better. They win the put-in to a scrum underneath the posts though and when the Japanese front row pops up under pressure, Yachvili has no problem in kicking the simplest of penalties. France 20-3 Japan

TRY! (Arlidge, 28′) Not good for my bet, but definitely good for this game as a contest. Japan show their ambition by kicking a close penalty into the corner. They control their maul perfectly and work the ball out to Arlidge. The out-half’s delicate little grubber is blocked by Trinh-Duc’s foot but, to his delight, it bounces directly back into his hands and he steps over the line.

He hooks his conversion attempt though, but Japan are delighted with the five points. France 20-8 Japan

TRY! (Clerc, 33′) I’ve given France a little bit of stick for their handling so far this morning, but that was perfect. They whisk the ball from left to right, with Trinh-Duc and Rougerie linking before the latter sends Vincent Clerc over in the corner.

The conversion is from the tightest of angles, and Yachvili misses his first of the game. France 25-8 Japan

That was a glorious chance for Japan, who are really acquitting themselves well here. With numbers out wide and a definite try on the cards, Arlidge’s pass goes just behind Ryan Nicholas and falls to ground. Pity.

Japan do have a penalty advantage though, so up steps Arlidge…

PENALTY! (Arlidge, 38′) … and he scores. France 25-11 Japan

HALF TIME: France 25-11 Japan

Steve Walsh brings the first half to a close and, I have to say, this is actually a rather enjoyable game.

I’m just going to make some porridge, but I’ll be back presently with some thoughts on the opening 40 minutes.

Japanese coach John Kirwan seems pretty happy with his team’s performance in the first half, particularly going forward. They did gift France two of their tries with silly mistakes, though.

We’re back underway in Auckland. Trinh-Duc fluffs his lines from the kick-off, and we’ve got a scrum on the half-way mark.

TMO! Oooh, great work from France at the line-out and Harinordoquy goes over — but does he ground the ball, or has the substitute Taniguchi managed to hold him up? We’re going upstairs…

NO TRY! There’s no evidence that Harinordoquy managed to ground that, so referee Steve Walsh cannot award the try and we go back for a five-yard scrum. Wonderful defence by Japan.

TMO! And again, we’re going back upstairs. This time, it’s Lionel Nallet who goes over. It looks every bit a try, but Steve Walsh says that he can see no evidence that the ball was grounded. Ryan Nicholas might have gotten his arm underneath in time…

NO TRY! Again, there are far too many bodies in the way for the TMO to see what really happened. We go back for a five-yard scrum again, but this time, Japan manage to lift the siege and clear their lines.

What a start to this second half.

Estabanez has taken a knock and will have to go off. Marty on to replace him in the centre.

TRY! (Arlidge, 49′) Incredible stuff here. Absolutely incredible. Are we about to see the first shock of the World Cup?

Japanese scrum-half Tanaka moves the ball quickly from the base of the ruck and Arlidge breaks the line to touch down underneath the posts. Some serious questions to be asked about the French tackling there as the out-half brushed off two tackles far too easily.

He dusts himself off and adds the extras. It’s a one-score game now. France 25-18 Japan

The North Harbour Stadium is buzzing, absolutely buzzing. They sense that a big shock could be on the cards, and they’d like that very much.

Line-out to Japan. About 12 or 13 yards from the line.

PENALTY! (Arlidge, 58′) Oh me, oh my. France are penalised for not releasing the tackler and, from all of 15 yards, James Arlidge — who has been brilliant today — reduces the deficit to four. France 25-21 Japan

France’s World Cup could be over before it starts. They really need to pull up their socks.

There is only one team playing to win this one at the moment. The big man Tupuailei looks like he’s put Onozawa through on the wing, but play is called back for a forward pass. France living on the edge.

Amid all the madness, David Skrela — who only came on as a second-half sub — has had to go off again with an injury. This game could really take its toll on France.

Here come France, playing with a bit more urgency now. Heymans kicks to the corner and, as France attack, Japan are penalised for not releasing the tackler.

PENALTY! (Yachvili, 67′) No mistake from Yachvili — but it is worth noting that they are France’s first points since Vincent Clerc’s try 33 minutes ago. France 28-21 Japan

TRY! (Nallet, 70′) Over the last few minutes, you could sense that was coming. Japan have defended heroically throughout, but eventually they run out of bodies to put on the line, and Nallet bullies his way over in the corner. That’s France’s fourth of the morning and with it a bonus point.

Yachvili makes no mistake — how many times have I typed that this morning? — from a difficult angle and now it’s France 35-21 Japan.

France have redeemed themselves somewhat in the last ten minutes, but I still love this tweet.

Japan’s out-half James Arlidge has been named as Man of the Match. He’s scored all 21 points this morning, as well as being at the heart of everything good. Very well deserved.

Japan are on the attack again. They simply do not know when they’re beaten. Excellent.

TRY! (Pape, 77′) Stunning counter-attacking rugby by France. Yachvili leads the charge with some world class handling and they make excellent use of their numerical advantage to send Pascal Pape in to score.

Again, Yachvili converts from the touchline. France 42-21 Japan

TRY! (Parra, 80′) The scoreline isn’t really a fair reflection of the game now. Rougerie draws the tackle and offloads to Parra in acres of space and the replacement scrum-half touches down in the corner.

Yachvili’s conversion misses to the right — that’s seven from nine today by my count — but it’s all academic at this stage. France 47-21 Japan

FULL TIME: France 47-21 Japan

Well well well, how about that? Despite switching off for almost 35 minutes in the middle of the game, France still managed to pull themselves together late on, racking up 22 points in the final ten minutes and easing over the line.

That’s not the story though. The real story is how impressive Japan were. I’ll hold my hands up and admit that I didn’t give them much of a chance (see 07:02, it’s there in writing) but they really put up an excellent, spirited display. Determined in defence and threatening going forward, the outcome could have been completely different had it not been for a few silly mistakes in the first half.

Next up for Japan? Well, that would be the All Blacks in six days’ time. Why not?

Final word goes to Ruairi, paying tribute to this morning’s Man of the Match, formerly of the Newport Gwent Dragons.

Ok, that’s my lot from Auckland. I’m going to step across the road to Dunedin where Six Nations champions England open their campaign against the Pumas, Argentina. Tasty.

Thanks for stopping by. See you again in, emm, a couple of minutes.

About the author:

Niall Kelly