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No deja vu as France spy a turn in fortunes

No deja vu as France spy a turn in fortunes
FILE PHOTO: Rugby Union - France Training - National Rugby Center, Marcoussis, France - August 27, 2019 France's Rabah Slimani during training REUTERS/Gonzalo Fuentes -
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GONZALO FUENTES(Reuters)
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By Nick Mulvenney

TOKYO (Reuters) – France prop Rabah Slimani thinks Les Bleus might have let their World Cup opener against Argentina slip away had it been played a few months ago and is hoping Saturday’s dramatic win will signal a change in fortunes.

The French led Wales 16-0 at halftime in the Six Nations earlier this year only to lose 24-19, while last November South Africa overhauled a 23-9 deficit to beat them 29-26 with a last-minute Bongi Mbonambi try at Stade de France.

It looked like deja vu on Saturday at Tokyo Stadium when, after building a 20-3 lead at the break on the back of some brilliant attacking rugby, the French trailed 21-20 with 11 minutes to go.

This time, though, replacement flyhalf Camille Lopez eased their nerves with a coolly taken drop goal which ultimately secured a 23-21 victory to send France top of Pool C.

“Not so long ago, we would have lost this match. But we kept our heads to win this opening game and make a good start to the tournament,” Slimani said.

“It reminded me of a lot of matches. I thought about the game against South Africa at Stade de France, when we lost in the last seconds.

“For the first time in a while, today it went in our favour. It’s not over, but, hey, at last it’s turning in our favour.”

While most of the plaudits for France’s purple patch in the first half on Saturday were handed to the backs – most notably dynamic winger Damian Penaud – Slimani and his fellow forwards also played their part, particularly just before halftime.

Argentina had been camped on the France line for a long period when they elected to take a scrum penalty.

The French scrum got a huge shove going through Slimani’s tighthead side, though, forcing Argentina loosehead prop Nahuel Tetaz Chaparro to stand up and securing a penalty that allowed them to break the siege.

The three-times World Cup finalists next face the United States in Fukuoka on Oct. 2 followed four days later by what will be another physical contest against Tonga in Kumamoto.

Their final opening-round match will be on Oct. 12 in Yokohama against arch rivals England, a contest which is now likely to decide which team tops Pool C.

“We cannot allow ourselves to relax … we must win the next two games,” fullback Max Medard said.

“England is an ogre for us. They are several levels above us. We can’t overthink things and play one match ahead. It’s a bit of a cliche, but it’s the truth.”

(Reporting by Nick Mulvenney, editing by Amlan Chakraborty)

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