RWC 19: France open campaign with a win as Argentina's spirited comeback falls just short

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A hard-fought win for France in the World Cup.

France held off a spirited second-half comeback from Argentina to win their World Cup Pool C opener 23-21 at the Tokyo Stadium.

Les Bleus looked in total control at 20-3 after tries from Gael Fickou and Antoine Dupont, with 20-year-old fly-half Romain Ntamack converting both before kicking two penalties.

However, the Pumas hit back soon after the restart when Guido Petti Pagadizavalgh bundled over from a line-out, before Argentina replacement hooker Julian Montoya touched down.

Penalties from Benjamin Urdapilleta then put Argentina ahead, before Camille Lopez’s drop goal saw France edge through the closing stages.

Argentina had been aiming to repeat their shock victory over Les Bleus in the opening match of the 2007 World Cup in France, where they went on to reach the semi-finals.

After a cagey start, Nicolas Sanchez kicked a penalty wide in the 12th minute.

The Stade Francais fly-half, though, was soon off the mark when an offside in the French defensive line gave him another penalty opportunity in front of the posts.

France produced an instant response to score the opening try in the 16th minute.

Peato Vakatawa showed some great footwork before finding Fickou on a break down the left to go over. Ntamack, son of former France international Emile, made the conversion to put his side 7-3 in front.

Les Bleus scored another flowing try when scrum-half Dupont finished off an impressive move in the corner.

Ntamack added a penalty to extend the advantage to 17-3 as the half-hour mark approached.

After Argentina failed to make the most of some sustained pressure, fly-half Ntamack continued to show a cool head to convert another penalty and send France into the break with a seemingly healthy 20-3 lead.

Argentina, though, reduced the deficit just two minutes into the second half following a well-worked line-out.

A long, high throw saw second-row Pagadizaval bundled over. Sanchez converted the angled kick to bring Argentina back within 10 points.

Argentina replacement hooker Julian Montoya came on to win his 50th cap – and made an instant impact from a driving maul to score after Pagadizaval had taken a line-out catch in the 54th minute.

While Sanchez missed the conversion chance, the Pumas continued their momentum.

After a breakaway opportunity was eventually halted, replacement Urdapilleta kicked a penalty, for an earlier infringement by Damian Penaud, to close the gap down to just two points.

France were starting to lose composure and lock Sebastien Vahaamahina gave away 10 yards for a push, which put the penalty in kicking range.

After a TMO review for Emiliano Boffelli’s jumping challenge on Penaud, Castres Olympique fly-half Urdapilleta sent a left-foot effort over as Argentina edged in front 21-20.

France, though, produced an instant response when replacement Camille Lopez sent a drop-kick just over the bar, with Ntamack then missing a penalty chance.

There was still time for more drama as Urdapilleta saw his long-range kick drop just the wrong side of the posts as France held out – before tempers boiled over at full-time with some scuffles.

Provided by Press Association Sports

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RWC 2019: Warren Gatland praises Wales skipper Alun Wyn Jones as he prepares to equal cap record

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Wales boss Warren Gatland says skipper Alun Wyn Jones is a player that “deserves all the accolades” as he prepares to equal his country’s cap record.

Jones will make a 129th Wales appearance in Monday’s Rugby World Cup opener against Georgia, matching prop Gethin Jenkins’ achievement.

“He has been absolutely outstanding,” Gatland said of the 34-year-old. “He has got better with age.

“He deserves all the accolades. He has been a great servant to Welsh rugby. The pleasing thing for me is that recognition hasn’t just been in Wales. It has been worldwide.

“People realise just what a contribution he has made to world rugby, both in his performances and leadership. It’s pleasing to see someone from Wales recognised as one of the best players in his position.”

Flanker Aaron Wainwright will make his World Cup debut against Georgia, lining up in the back-row alongside Justin Tipuric and Josh Navidi, with Ross Moriarty among the replacements.

Gatland has chosen a starting line-up packed with star names as the Six Nations champions target a flying start.

Jones is joined by fellow British & Irish Lions Test players in Tipuric, full-back Liam Williams, wing George North, centre Jonathan Davies and hooker Ken Owens.

Elsewhere, there is a start for Scarlets prop Wyn Jones, and Jake Ball is Alun Wyn Jones’ second-row partner with Aaron Shingler providing lock cover among the replacements.

On 21-year-old Wainwright’s selection, Gatland added: “He’s incredibly athletic and an intelligent rugby player. He’s very inexperienced still, but I think there is only an upward curve for him as a player.

“I don’t think people realise how quick he is and how explosive he is. Since his first cap 12 months or so ago, he has just gone from strength to strength.

“There’s some real competition in the back-row, and that’s the way we want it. We feel there’s a nice balance.”

Lock Adam Beard, meanwhile, has joined the Wales squad in Japan after remaining at home last week to have his appendix removed.

Beard’s fellow second-row forward Cory Hill, who has been sidelined due to a stress fracture in his leg, remains on course for the Australia match.

“He (Beard) is going to do some light stuff over the next few days,” Gatland said. “I don’t think he’s going to be in contention for selection next week.

“The plan is to get him up and running as quickly as we possibly can. He’s lost a bit of weight, so we need to get some weight back on him, get him eating properly again.

“He’s done a lot of training and conditioning over the last three months, so it will probably take a week to get him up to speed again.

“Cory Hill did some scrums today and some running. The plan is to have him available for selection for next week. He’s making a lot of progress.”

Wales go into the Georgia game after assistant coach Rob Howley was sent home from Japan earlier this week for an alleged breach of World Rugby’s betting regulations.

Former Wales fly-half Stephen Jones has replaced Howley and was involved in his first training session on Saturday.

“Yesterday, we had a day off, and he (Jones) spent all day in the team room looking at game footage, going through training and the calls and everything,” Gatland added.

“He has fitted in well, and it has been easy because he has been in this environment as a player. He knows so many of the players as well.”

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RWC 19: Controversy erupts after Australia's Reece Hodge escapes red card against Fiji

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Australia's Reece Hodge (r) in action against Fiji.

World Rugby’s crackdown on dangerous tackles has ignited controversy just two games into the World Cup after Australia wing Reece Hodge escaped a red card against Fiji.

Hodge prevented Peceli Yato from scoring a certain try in the 26th minute of the Wallabies’ 39-21 victory by halting the openside with a shoulder-led, no-arms challenge to the head.

Fiji captain Dominiko Waqaniburotu revealed after the Pool D showdown at the Sapporo Dome that, having requested referee Ben O’Keeffe to refer the incident to English TMO Rowan Kitt, the tackle was deemed legitimate.

Adding to the Islanders’ sense of grievance is that Yato, who scored the opening try and was superb until his departure, then failed a head injury assessment after being hurt in a tackle that could also have been punished by a penalty try.

Only on Monday, World Cup referees chief Alain Rolland warned the competing nations that officials would punish high tackles with greater severity, even if that means games were being blighted by red cards.

It comes amid World Rugby’s drive to reduce instances of concussion by clamping down on dangerous hits.

Fiji head coach John McKee adopted a stoical view on an incident that is sure to result in a citing for Hodge.

“I haven’t seen footage of the incident yet, but maybe some people will look at it. We haven’t spoken to the TMO yet,” McKee said.

“The referee has a tough job out there. There’s a lot going on. We maybe didn’t get the rub of the green, but we have no complaints about the referee.

“We take a lot out of that game and we are still in this tournament. We will be watching how Wales and Australia go. We’re still in this tournament.”

Waqaniburotu revealed that the tackle was missed by New Zealand referee O’Keeffe.

“He said he didn’t see anything so it will be referred to the TMO. We will just have to see what happens,” Waqaniburotu said.

Australia head coach Michael Cheika also said he did not see the tackle, but noted that “the collision was a massive one and a try-saver”.

Cheika added: “Fiji came out with a lot of aggression and they caught us on the hop early on. But we got out of it with a bonus-point win, so it’s a good start for us.”

Cheika also questioned why the officials were having an ongoing discussion during the match about his blindside flanker David Pocock.

Provided by Press Association Sports

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