France held off a second-half comeback by Argentina to win a gripping World Cup match in Tokyo.
The Pumas overturned a 20-3 half-time deficit to take a 21-20 lead until Camille Lopez’s drop-goal put France ahead again in the Pool C encounter.
Tries from Gael Fickou and Antoine Dupont gave France the advantage.
Guido Petti and Julian Montoya crossed for the Pumas and Benjamin Urdapilleta’s penalty put them ahead before replacement Lopez struck.
The Pumas, who had lost their previous nine internationals, had another the chance to win it late on, but Emiliano Boffelli’s long-range penalty drifted just wide.
England start their Pool C campaign on Sunday against Tonga, who are Argentina’s next opponents on Saturday, 28 September. France resume when they take on the United States on Wednesday, 2 October.
France’s game of two halves
France looked close to their best in the first half, and there was no indication of the drama to come after the resumption.
Romain Ntamack was assured at fly-half, and winger Damian Penaud went past his opponent seven times – more than any other player – in the first 40 minutes.
But Petti’s try early in the second half rattled the French before Montoya’s close-range effort and an Urdapilleta penalty reduced their lead to just two points.
However, they gathered themselves after Urdapilleta’s second penalty put Argentina one point ahead, a lead that only lasted around a minute before Lopez’s left-footed drop-goal.
The second half dip will alarm coach Jacques Brunel, but he can take heart that his team had enough to prevent what would have been the biggest second-half comeback in Rugby World Cup history.
More tests to come for Pumas
Argentina gave the perfect response to their below-par first half when Petti drove over from a line-out just two minutes into the second period.
And when Montoya, himself only on the pitch for three minutes as a replacement for Agustin Creevy, executed a line-out move to earn five more points, hopes of a superb comeback were high.
Boffelli’s late miss meant the Pumas went down to their 10th straight Test defeat, and they must end that barren run when they face Tonga in Osaka.
And even if they can win that testing encounter, this defeat also puts their meeting with England on Saturday, 5 October into the must-win category.
But their spirited performance in the second half gives coach Mario Ledesma hope of making the quarter-finals if they can carry their form into the rest of their Pool C matches.
Man of the match – Damian Penaud (France)
- Argentina have lost their last 10 Test matches in succession; however, five of the past six matches in that span have been decided by six points or fewer.
- France have won their opening game in eight of their previous nine Rugby World Cup campaigns; a 17-12 loss to Argentina in 2007 their only blemish in that period.
- The biggest half-time comeback in Rugby World Cup history is 13 points – Argentina winning against Samoa in 1999 after trailing 16-3 at the break.
‘You can’t play for just 40 minutes’ – what they said
France captain Guilhem Guirado: “It was a tough game but we are very happy to start with a win.
“In the second half we never controlled the ball or the game but I am very proud of the first half because we were very clinical. When we play like that we are very dangerous.”
Argentina captain Pablo Matera: “A really bad start from us as a team. Not good enough to play for only one half.
“France didn’t do too much but they took their opportunities and scored points. It’s difficult to come from behind.”
France: Medard; Penaud, Fickou, Vakatawa, Huget; Ntamack, Dupont; Poirot, Guirado, Slimani, Iturria, Vahaamahina, Lauret, Ollivon, Alldritt
Replacements: Chat, Baille, Bamba, Le Roux, Picamoles, Machenaud, Lopez, Ramos
Argentina: Boffelli; Moroni, Orlando, De la Fuente, Moyano; Sanchez, Cubelli; Tetaz Chaparro, Creevy, Figallo, Petti, Lavanini, Matera (c), Kremer, Ortega Desio,