France retain World Rugby Classic crown in thrilling title decider
France successfully defended their World Rugby Classic title after edging Argentina 21-20 in a thrilling finale on Thursday night.
With just four minutes to go, Mathieu Amoros’s pinpoint penalty proved the decisive moment as the lead crucially changed hands one final time before France held firm in the tense final moments to see out victory and retain their crown.
“I am really proud that we defended our title,” said France coach Damien Chouly, whose side beat Italy and Classic Lions in their first two matches. “Again it was another tough match with the leading switching all the time.
“It was such a tight game but to win by one point is amazing and I’m just so happy for the players because they deserve it.
“In the end we are holding the trophy once again and that is what matters. For me it means more because there was only four teams last year and this year we had to beat some very strong teams.”
Both teams were unbeaten going into this final match at the North Field, National Sports Centre but it was Argentina who got off to the ideal start, scoring the game’s first try after two minutes when a flying move down the right-hand side culminated in Roman Miralles racing clear to score. Juan Cruz Gonzalez added the extras to help his side to a 7-0 lead.
France responded superbly to that setback and after a prolonged period of pressure deep in Argentinian territory, they were rewarded with a penalty try to deservedly level the score.
But in a game full of twists and turns Argentina hit back when Lucas Borges forced his way over, with Miralles this time kicking the conversion to restore his side’s lead at 14-7.
France reduced the deficit to just two points four minutes later when Benoit Marfaing raced on to a kick to score an unconverted try in the right corner.
Building on that, the defending champions took the lead for the first time when the trusted boot of Amoros again proved its worth with a successful penalty to give his side a slender 15-14 advantage.
Yet again the tide swung back in favour of Argentina’s, who snatched the lead back two minutes later with a penalty of their own as Gonzalez brilliantly dispatched a 45-metre attempt through the posts.
French hopes appeared to have been dealt a blow when Amoros was sent to the sin bin with eight minutes of the half remaining but, despite being a man down, they remained dogged in defence and kept the deficit to just two points as the referee brought an end to the frantic first half.
That defensive determination was rewarded five minutes after the restart when Amoros, fresh back on the pitch, converted another penalty as the lead switched again.
With ten minutes remaining Argentina edged close to victory with another penalty, this time from 35 metres, courtesy of the reliable Gonzalez.
Determined not to relinquish their crown, France poured forward in the final five minutes and they forced Argentina into a crucial infringement deep in their own half, handing the defending champions a penalty opportunity.
Crucially keeping his composure when it mattered most, Amoros, almost inevitably, was again successful, this time from 25 metres, to give his side a one-point lead that they would not relinquish.
Try as the may, Argentina could not find any further response in the closing stages with French players, staff and fans celebrating wildly as the final whistle blew.
“It was an extremely close match but ultimately it was not our night,” said Argentina coach Rodolfo Ventura. “Either team could have won but as with all finals you must win them and we just fell short.
“There is nothing to have regrets about. Sometimes it just doesn’t go your way, one team has to win the title and it was their time. We’ll just have to wait another year to win the title back.”