Second-half tries by debutant lock Thibaud Flament and hooker Peato Mauvaka and superb goal-kicking by Melvyn Jaminet helped France to a 29-20 victory over a battling Argentina in a typically intense clash in the Stade de France on Saturday.
Flament was playing fly-half in the fifth team of England’s Loughborough University five years ago, but on Saturday he was the toast of Paris after his excellent score broke through a determined Puma defence early in the second half.
Argentina were leading 10-9 at the time after a first-half Tomas Cubelli try, but Flament’s score was followed by a second try for Mauvaka to put the hosts clear.
Argentina showed terrific spirit to launch a series of attacks in the last 10 minutes and closed the gap with a Mateo Carreras try but France had the last word with Jaminet’s fifth penalty.
“The balance is positive but we struggled to keep the ball and they made it tough in the first half,” captain Antoine Dupont said. “Once we managed that we put them in difficulty, but there’s room for improvement.”
France had the best of the opening quarter and led 6-0 after two penalties from classy fullback Jaminet, but Argentina hit back with a try out of the blue after 22 minutes.
Emiliano Boffelli missed a penalty attempt but Pablo Matera charged down Matthieu Jalibert’s subsequent 22 drop out and, after he was hauled down just short, Cubelli scooped up the ball to score under the posts, with Boffelli converting for a 7-6 lead.
Jaminet France edged 9-7 ahead with his third penalty but then missed a relatively easy fourth just before the break — only his second miss from 20 attempts in his fledgling international career.
France had hoped to find some creative spark by playing Romain Ntamack as a second distributor outside Jalibert but it was the Puma backline that started to click, earning a penalty that Bofelli landed to restore his side’s lead.
It lasted only a couple of minutes however, as 6ft 8in lock Flament, who had an excellent all-round debut, ran a student fly-half’s line onto a Jalibert pass to send the home fans wild.
Another great combination sent scrum-half Dupont scampering down the line but his score was ruled out for an earlier knock on. Argentina defended desperately to stay in the game and were rewarded with another Bofelli penalty to bring them back to 16-13 down midway through the half.
However, France’s replacements brought even more intensity and a mighty shove splintered an Argentina scrum to earn another penalty for Jaminet for a 19-13 lead.
France’s relentless pressure eventually told again as Jalibert popped a pass off the ground to rampaging replacement hooker Mauvaka for their second try.
France were forced into some desperate and impressive defending in the last 15 minutes and though Carreras scored late on and another try was ruled “held up”, Jaminet’s fifth penalty glossed a deserved win.
France next face Georgia ahead of their showdown with New Zealand, while Argentina, who have now lost seven in a row after their clean sweep of defeats in the Rugby Championship, play Italy.
“We hate losing,” Pumas skipper Julian Montoya said. “We conceded too many penalties at the breakdown and we weren’t very precise in attack, we could have created more tries. But there are no excuses, we just need to get better next week.”