France's Gabin Villiere reacts during the Rugby World Cup Pool A match between France and Uruguay, in Lille, France, 14 September 2023. EFE-EPA/MOHAMMED BADRA

France dig deep to down daring Uruguay at Rugby World Cup

By Lobsang DS Subirana

Sports Desk, Sep 14 (EFE).- France won their second match of the Rugby World Cup on Thursday in Lille by 27-12 after defeating an unrelenting Uruguay team who put Pool A on notice, following a spirited performance that at times had the flavors of an upset in the making.

The South Americans summoned every ounce of the grit and pride they showed to beat Fiji in 2019 to push the host nation until the very last minute at the Stade Pierre-Mauroy, despite the evident mismatches of a side 14 places lower in the world rankings.

“I am so proud of my team (…) 10 minutes from the end of the game we were fighting against France, one of the best teams in the world,” Uruguayan captain Andres Vilaseca said in his pitch-side interview, as he held his son in arms.

From the get-go, Les Bleus’ forwards put Uruguay’s pack under pressure, forcing loosehead prop Mateo Sanguinetti to twice collapse a scrum, with New Zealand referee Ben O’Keeffe penalizing him the second time and French fullback Melvyn Jaminet scoring from the tee.

But as occurred at the Stade de France six days earlier against the All Blacks, it was France who conceded the first try from a beautifully worked Uruguayan move in open play just six minutes into the match.

Uruguay's players celebrate during the Rugby World Cup Pool A match between France and Uruguay, in Lille, France, 14 September 2023. EFE-EPA/MOHAMMED BADRA

Los Teros captain Andres Vilaseca ran a menacing inside line off the right side of the pitch to get over the gainline, with fly half Felipe Etcheverry producing a probing crossfield kick that found Nicolas Freitas in the opposite side. It came off the winger’s shin and he regathered to score in the corner, as Jaminet could only look on having missed the contest for the ball.

France eventually got into gear and responded in kind just minutes after, as they created an overlap in the blindside from a scrum in Uruguay’s five-meter line through scrum half Maxime Lucu, replacing star player Antoine Dupont.

He fed fly half Antoine Hastoy who comfortably scored his first try for the national team, with Jaminet adding the extra two points from the boot, then slotting in a penalty after the restart to keep the score ticking.

Adding to France’s reply was Sanguinetti’s terrible day at scrum time, losing every battle to French tighthead Dorian Aldegheri. But Los Teros received a lifeline when lock Romain Taofifenua received a yellow card for a high tackle on scrum half Santiago Arata.

Uruguay exploited the space from their man advantage with fast balls to winger Freitas. They used their first attacking lineout in the French 22-meter line to produce a move off a driving maul, which Etcheverry used to score, only to have the try ruled out due to an obstruction in the build up by inside center Vilaseca.

Uruguay's Andres Vilaseca (R) and France's Damien Penaud (L) in action during the Rugby World Cup Pool A match between France and Uruguay, in Lille, France, 14 September 2023. EFE-EPA/MOHAMMED BADRA

But they continued defending valiantly, absorbing France’s attack until half time and limiting the score to 13-5.

It was Uruguay who started the second half the strongest, breaking Les Bleus’ defensive line through fullback Baltazar Amaya, who carried from his own half to inside France’s 22-meter line, in a promising attacking play that fell through following a knock on.

The hosts began looking rattled, as even the ever-reliable Jaminet missed a penalty kick that sailed left of the posts. He later tried a box kick inside Uruguay’s half that winger Gabin Villiere somehow gathered to score – only to be disallowed when a replay showed the ball had been knocked on by captain Anthony Jelonch.

The crowd in Lille began to go quiet, and they’d go quieter still just moments after.

Uruguay’s sustained pressure bore fruit, as Amaya scored a fantastic try after Arata found him following an attacking scrum that saw him touch down in the corner to make it 13-12.

And yet it was short-lived, as France scored straight after restart when Etcheverry’s misdirected kick to clear hit his own player and ricocheted in kind for replacement France hooker Peato Mauvaka, who juggled, gathered and crashed over with the ball to put daylight between the sides.

Uruguay's Santiago Arata (L) in action at a scrum during the Rugby World Cup Pool A match between France and Uruguay, in Lille, France, 14 September 2023. EFE-EPA/MOHAMMED BADRA

But Uruguay didn’t relent, and coach Fabian Galthie’s side began conceding penalties aplenty – at scrum time and around the breakdown, which totalled 15 counts – helping Los Teros exit their red zone after a spell of French pressure.

France’s lineout began to unravel, and for a moment it seemed Esteban Meneses’ men could continue pushing the hosts for a result. But the Six Nations champions were better in the key moments and kept looking for openings, as eventually Louis Bielle-Biarrey scored from a move in the Uruguayan 22-meter line, attacking the short side and feeding the pacy winger who slid in unopposed.

Despite the 15-point gap, Uruguay never looked like stopping, covering 90 percent in territory in the last 10 minutes of the game, which though showed no return on the scoreboard, made a massive statement of intent about their ambitions in France.

“I couldn’t ask for a better team to lead,” Vilaseca said, as his country’s President Luis Lacalle Pou looked on from the stands, adding that all of the players’ families had also been there supporting them.

Uruguay’s World Cup campaign is now up and running, their heads are held high and Italy will have taken good note for when these sides face off Wednesday in Nice. EFE