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Flawless France crowned World Rugby Classic champions

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Title delight: France were crowned World Rugby Classic Champions (Photograph by Blaire Simmons)
Title delight: France were crowned World Rugby Classic Champions (Photograph by Blaire Simmons)

France were crowned World Rugby Classic champions after holding off a spirited Bermuda side to clinch a 25-17 victory and maintain their perfect record at North Field, National Sports Centre on Saturday.

Title delight: France were crowned World Rugby Classic Champions (Photograph by Blaire Simmons)

Having claimed back-to-back victories in their opening games, beating Lions Legends 22-0 and Classic Canada 34-3, the French only had to avoid a heavy defeat to Bermuda to clinch the title.

However, they were made to work to maintain their flawless record as Jamie Barnwell’s side pushed the champions elect all the way, finding themselves 19-10 down at the interval, before reducing the deficit to just two points with 15 minutes remaining.

However, there was to be no victorious finale to the tournament for Bermuda – who were the only opposition to score a try against France – as the opposition regained control in the closing stages to see out victory and claim the crown left vacant by Argentina’s Classic Pumas, the previous three-times champions.

“We are very proud to win the championship,” said Jean Claude Phillipe, the France Classic Rugby team manager. “We were very surprised by how well Bermuda played, they made us work very hard to win.

“It was not our most beautiful performance but that is credit to Bermuda because they made us have to play a different way, they were a very good team.

“We are so proud to be World Rugby Classic champions in Bermuda, it is an amazing feeling for all of the team.

“Hopefully we will be invited back next year because we would love to be able to defend our title. We have been coming to Bermuda for more than 25 years and so if we are invited, we will be back for sure.”

Having held firm against early pressure from the opposition, Bermuda opened the scoring through a Dan Cole penalty in the sixth minute.

France responded strongly to the setback and found themselves ahead five minutes later with the first try of the match. Utilising their greater physical advantage in a driving maul, the French managed to force Bermuda back from the 22-yard line, with Julien Tourtoulou forcing the ball over. Mathieu Amoros failed to add the conversion as the scoreline stood at 5-3.

Building on that momentum, a prolonged period of pressure on the Bermuda defensive line followed over the next ten minutes and ultimately paid dividends for France as Fabien Alexandre crashed over in the left corner. This time Amoros was accurate with his boot, extending his side’s advantage to 12-3.

Against the run of play, Bermuda were handed a route back into the encounter as Mikey Dill intercepted a lapse pass deep in his own half, before racing away the length of the pitch to score. Cole slotted the simple conversion successfully through the posts to further reduce the deficit to just two points with the scoreline at 12-10.

However, with half time looming, France managed to restore their nine-point advantage. An incisive move from left to right, created an overload and allowed Romain Granal to go over in the corner. Amoros again added the conversion to send his side in at the break 19-10 ahead.

Once again Bermuda were quite literally handed a way back into the encounter as in an almost carbon copy of Dill’s previous try, an interception deep into their own half, this time from Tyler Kendall, led to the centre racing the length of the field to score under the posts. Cole added the simple conversion to take the score to 19-17 with 15 minutes remaining.

However, France managed to regain control of the match and edged themselves five points ahead in the 47th minute through the boot of Amoros.

Just as Bermuda pushed to try and find the try that could lead to a memorable victory, France were given another opportunity to extend their advantage with another penalty. Keeping his composure, Amoros slotted the ball through the posts to crucially give his side an eight-point cushion with just three minutes left.

To compound matters, Jahniko Francis was sent off in the closing moments for his part played in an altercation, as Bermuda were reduced to 14 men. With the numerical advantage, France played out the final minute, to seal the title.

After competing so admirably throughout the tournament after decades away from the annual event, Bermuda head coach Barnwell was left with nothing but overwhelming pride for his entire squad.

“France hadn’t conceded a try until tonight and so for that reason alone we can be proud of our efforts,” said Bermuda head coach Barnwell. “To have the game with only one try in it with ten minutes remaining to possibly turn this tournament on its head is a huge credit to the team.

“If you would have said at the beginning of the week that this squad would have played that well and competed at this high level throughout the tournament, I would have called you crazy, it has been just so good, we’re all so proud.”

Title delight: France were crowned World Rugby Classic Champions (Photograph by Blaire Simmons)

• Lions Legend managed to secure second place overall after easing to a comprehensive 45-19 victory over Classic Canada, who ended the tournament with three straight defeats.

In an even opening half, Lions opened the score with an unconverted try through Rhys Shellard in the third minute, only for Canada to hit back with an unconverted try of their own three minutes later through Galen Potash-Kooyman.

Canada then took the lead midway through the half as Alistair McBride broke through the defensive line to score, with Jordan Tait this time adding the conversion to take the score to 12-5. However, right on the stroke of half time, Lions levelled after a period of pressure as Koree Britton went over and Aled Thomas added the extras to take the teams in at 12-12 at the break.

However, the second half proved anything but even as the Lions dominated, running in five further tries. The first came in the 34th minute through Aaron Bramwell and was quickly followed five minutes later with another try from Martin Roberts. Both were successfully converted by Thomas as the Lions lead stood at 26-12.

Canada reduced the deficit to just five points in the 43rd minute through a brilliant individual kick and rush try from Potash-Kooyman, coveted by Tait, but the Lions hit back with an unconverted try from Darren Ryan to take the scoreline to 31-19.

As Canada tired, Lions further asserted their dominance with further tries in the final five minutes from Shellard and Ryan again, both converted by Thomas to ultimately wrap up a comfortable 45-19 success and secure second place in the standings.

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Published November 15, 2021 at 7:58 am (Updated November 16, 2021 at 8:05 am)

Flawless France crowned World Rugby Classic champions

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