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France tame Lions to set up thrilling decider in World Rugby Classic

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Close attention: action from France’s hard-fought 10-5 victory over Lions Legends (Photograph by Blaire Simmons)
No way through: action from France’s hard-fought 10-5 victory over Lions Legends (Photograph by Blaire Simmons)
Safe hands: Peter Sidoli collects the line out for the Lions against France (Photograph by Blaire Simmons)
Powering through: action from France’s hard-fought 10-5 victory over Lions Legends (Photograph by Blaire Simmons)

France 10 Classic Lions 5

France kept their World Rugby Classic title defence on track with a hard-fought victory in a fiery clash against the Lions Legends last night.

Just as they had in their opening 28-6 victory over Italy on Saturday, France were forced to battle back from a losing position after an unconverted try from Ben Woods gifted the Lions a 5-0 lead at the interval.

Mathieu Amoros proved the French hero, kicking a penalty to reduce the deficit to just two points before scoring what proved to be the decisive try with ten minutes remaining, Anthony Lagardere converted to complete the turnaround.

The victory maintained not only France’s perfect record but also sets up a mouthwatering title decider on Thursday against unbeaten Argentina, who recorded their second victory of the tournament with a slender 10-7 success over Canada earlier in the evening.

“It was another hard-fought win,” said France coach Damien Chouly. “The first half was very physical and it was not a beautiful game but in the end we got the win, so we’re very pleased.

“Once again the spirit of my team was very important. We lacked that in the first half and lost momentum too much. It was a different mentality in the second half and that was really pleasing to see.

“It was a very good win and we now have the opportunity to try to defend our title against Argentina, which is really exciting.

“We know they are a very strong team and have probably the strongest squad in this tournament, so we know it will be an extremely hard game.

“They have quite a young team and so are very fit and athletic. It will be a faster-paced game no doubt, so we have to be ready for that.”

Wounded from their shock 19-15 defeat to Canada on Sunday, the Lions started the match with far greater intensity and got themselves ahead with the first try of the night in the sixth minute.

A flowing move down the left-hand side resulted in Woods crashing over in the corner. James Shanahan failed to add the difficult conversion, leaving the score at 5-0.

Building on that momentum, Lions thought they had doubled their advantage just a minute later when Niall Kenneally broke the defensive line before going over under the posts. However, the jubilant celebrations were brought to an abrupt halt with play called back for an adjudged forward pass in the build up.

The reprieve appeared to spur on France, who finally found a foothold and dominated possession for prolonged periods.

Yet for all their control, they failed to find a way through a dogged Lions’ defence which managed to hold firm for the remainder of the half to keep their slender advantage intact at the interval.

But that was to change in the 46th minute when Amoros, who had missed a difficult 40-metre penalty attempt ten minutes earlier, sent a 30-metre attempt clean through the posts to reduce the deficit to just two points.

The full back then missed another audacious penalty attempt from 53 metres two minute later before he broke the defensive line to crash over.

A late tackle on the French player in the process of scoring sparked a mêlée between the two sets of players, which spilled through the barriers and into the crowd as tempers flared.

Once order was restored, Lagardere successfully added the simple conversion to gift his side an all important 10-5 lead with ten minutes remaining.

The Lions spurned a late opportunity to reduce the deficit to just two points when Shanahan missed a golden penalty opportunity to set up hope of a thrilling finale.

A second successive defeat ends any hopes the Lions had of challenging for the title and coach Richard Hubbard conceded pride was all his side had left to play for in the final game against USA Eagles on Thursday.

“Obviously I’m disappointed with the result, but I was a lot happier with the performance,” he said. “After the last game, I thought we looked like a different team almost.

“I’m proud with how the boys played. That was a good French team, who are very physical and I thought we matched them.

“They restored a little of that pride in the jersey tonight and now we need to go out in the final game and fully restore it.”

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Published October 12, 2022 at 8:05 am (Updated October 12, 2022 at 8:05 am)

France tame Lions to set up thrilling decider in World Rugby Classic

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