KUMAMOTO, Japan (Reuters) – France weathered a Tongan storm to reach the Rugby World Cup quarter-finals with a nail-biting 23-21 victory over the Pacific islanders on Sunday, joining Pool C rivals England in the last eight and ending Argentina’s slim hopes of progressing.
Tonga famously upset France in the pool stage at the 2011 World Cup but there was to be no repeat at Kumamoto Stadium with flyhalf Romain Ntamack’s assured place-kicking seeing the three-times finalists home despite a fierce battle.
Early tries from backs Virimi Vakatawa and Alivereti Raka helped give France a 17-0 lead but Tonga crossed twice in seven minutes around the break through scrumhalf Sonatane Takulua and centre Malietoa Hingano to cut the lead to three points.
Ntamack steered two penalties between the posts, however, to give the French a 23-14 cushion that proved just sufficient when flanker Zane Kapeli scored Tonga’s third try in the last minute.
Les Bleus now head north to Yokohama for next Saturday’s clash with England to decide which nation tops the pool.
(Reporting by Nick Mulvenney in Tokyo, editing by Tony Lawrence)