France edge out Argentina
November 8, 2008
Argentina's Felipe Contepomi and France's David Skrela wrestle for possession of the ball
© Getty Images
France emerged victorious in a tryless war of attrition against old foes Argentina in Marseille to prevent a run of three successive Test defeats.
Les Bleus took a 9-6 lead into the second half, thanks to a penalty and a drop goal by fly-half David Skrela and another three-pointer by Benoit Baby. Felipe Contepomi's two penalties kept the Pumas in touch but they could not make any inroads into French territory in a well-contested second period and Skrela's penalty in the final minute killed them off.
France head coach Marc Lievremont, whose side had lost to Wales and Australia (twice) in their last three internationals, demanded a win at all costs and he got it. It was not pretty and there was not a try-scoring chance of note in the whole match, but it was an engrossing forward battle that the French just pipped, their back row of Louis Picamoles, Imanol Harinordoquy and Thierry Dusautoir particularly impressive.
Matches between these two countries have always been tight, feisty affairs and this one was no different. The French had a few scores to settle, having lost twice on home soil to the Pumas in last year's World Cup and a total of six out of seven times to the South Americans since 2002.
Les Bleus edged a first half that was high in energy and intensity but lacking any real quality. For two teams who can show such swagger on the counter-attack, there was precious little free-flowing rugby on offer and kicking was very much the order of the day. Contepomi missed a relatively simple penalty in the ninth minute and Skrela made him pay by slotting over a drop-goal three minutes later to put France ahead.
Despite the benign conditions in Marseille, there were handling errors and knock-ons aplenty early on and whistle-happy referee Jonathan Kaplan was refusing to let the match flow. Contepomi levelled the score with a penalty when Picamoles, otherwise excellent for Les Bleus at number eight, was penalised for hands in the ruck.
But the hosts forged six points ahead thanks to a penalty first from Skrela and then, three minutes later and from long range, from Baby. Contepomi halved the deficit just before half-time with his second three-pointer and even though star fly-half Juan Martin Hernandez was struggling to get into the game, the Pumas were still well in it.
There was plenty of huff and puff in the opening exchanges of the second half played mainly in midfield, but scoring chances were few and far between. Baby, playing his first Test since 2005, missed a penalty from halfway in the 57th minute but the French were setting up camp in Argentina's half and their try line was not troubled.
It continued to be a battle of the boot, neither side willing to chance their arm out wide, but that more than suited France, whose defensive line was resolute throughout. A couple of awry throws in the line-out by Argentina hooker Mario Ledesma, when his team were in attacking situations, also came as a relief to Lievremont's men.
And it was they who finished the match in the ascendancy, Skrela kicking a last-minute penalty to finally put the Pumas to bed.
France play host to the Pacific Islanders next weekend in Sochaux while Argentina travel to Torino to take on Italy.
France: Medard, Malzieu, Jauzion, Baby, Heymans, Skrela, Elissalde, Barcella, Szarzewski, Lecouls, Millo-Chulski, Nallet, Dusautoir, Harinordoquy, Picamoles.
Replacements: Kayser, Mas, Chabal, Ouedraogo, Parra, Traille, Palisson.
Argentina: Stortoni, Leonelli, Tiesi, Contepomi, Agulla, Hernandez, Vergallo, Roncero, Ledesma, Orlandi, Alvarez, Albacete, Durand, Galindo, Fernandez Lobbe.
Replacements: Basualdo, Ayerza, Lozada, Campos, Figuerola, Aramburu, Carballo.
Referee: Jonathan Kaplan (South Africa)
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