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World Rugby U20 Championship: Fiji Put Up Gutsy Effort But France Too Good

Impressive maul defence kept France at bay but from the resulting scrum, the ball popped out at the back and Joseph was able to reach out and place a hand on it first despite a desperate attempt from Muntz. For the fourth time in the match, Smaili converted.
06 Jun 2019 16:17
World Rugby U20 Championship: Fiji Put Up Gutsy Effort But France Too Good
Vodafone Fijian Under- 20 fullback Osea Waqa tries to evade a French tackler in the World Rugby U20 Championship at the Racecourse Stadium in Rosario Argentina on June 4,2019. Photo: World Rugby

Vodafone Fijian Under-20 side put on a brave performance as they went down 36-20 to defending World Rugby U20 Championship champs France in their pool opener at Rosario, Santa Fe in Argentina yesterday.

The Kele Leawere coached-side trailed France 29-20 in the final 12 minutes where they failed to cope with the pace of the game.

Fijian U20 captain Tevita Ikanivere said they had worked on their weaknesses from the Oceania tournament and gave France a good game in the first half.

“They came back at us in the second half and we couldn’t stay in it for the whole 80 minutes,” the young hooker said.

“We saw today we can play for 40, 60 but we need to play for the whole 80 minutes.”

France captain Matthis Lebel told World Rugby: “The game was very difficult because Fiji are a big team. Our performance was good in parts and bad in parts. The second half was much better.”

BACK AFTER 5 YEARS

France did what was needed to get their U20 Championship title defence off to a winning start, but it was far from a faultless performance against a Fijian side that looked at home at this level after a five-year absence.

Having opened the scoring with just over a minute gone through full-back Donovan Taofifenua, France failed to capitalise on their dream start and sloppy play and a run of penalties allowed the World Rugby U20 Trophy 2018 winners back into the game.

Penalties from the boot of fly-half Caleb Muntz, after four and 13 minutes, cut the deficit to a single point, before Mathieu Smaili added to his earlier conversion with a penalty.

Had the ball not bounced awkwardly off the artificial surface, Epeli Momo could well have scored and another promising Fijian attack came to an end once France captain Lebel made a timely interception.

When last year’s Player of the Tournament Jordan Joseph got on the end of a cross-field kick from Smaili to make the score 15-6, it appeared the tide had turned but Fiji were not done yet.

Shortly after Osea Waqa had knocked on with the line at his mercy, flanker Taniela Ramasibana found his way over the line from close range, Muntz converting to bring his side within two points of Les Bleuets at the break. Winger Ethan Dumortier’s 44th-minute sin-binning for a dangerous tackle on Emosi Tuqiri asked further questions of France but they survived the 10 minutes with their line intact.

They actually pulled further in front when scrum-half Leo Coly darted under the posts after a good break in the build-up from centre Antoine Zeghdar.

The try converted by Smaili, energised France and they did not have to wait long for the bonus-point score, their scrum dominance leading to Joseph’s second of the match.

Despite coming under increased pressure, Fiji finally broke free and a brilliant counterattack started and finished by Waqa, and converted by Muntz, gave them a glimmer of hope at 29-20 down with 12 minutes left to play.

Impressive maul defence kept France at bay but from the resulting scrum, the ball popped out at the back and Joseph was able to reach out and place a hand on it first despite a desperate attempt from Muntz. For the fourth time in the match, Smaili converted.

As hat-trick scores go, it wasn’t the prettiest, but Joseph will be delighted to have started off this year’s tournament where he left off in 2018, even if his team know there is plenty of room for improvement in the matches ahead.

OTHER RESULTS

South Africa 43-19 Scotland, Australia 36-12 Italy, Argentina 25-30 Wales, New Zealand 45-13 Georgia, England 26-42 Ireland

NEXT GAME

Sunday (Fiji time) 1.30am Australia v Ireland, 4am France v Wales, Argentina v Fiji, 6.30am New Zealand v Scotland, England v Italy.

Edited by Grace Narayan

Feedbackleonec@fijisun.com.fj

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