France floored by PNG spirit

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Papua New Guinea completed an amazing comeback after being 16 points down to beat France 23-20 in the Lincoln Rugby League World Cup Group Three opener at the Charlety Stadium here yesterday.

Papua New Guinea completed an amazing comeback after being 16 points down to beat France 23-20 in the Lincoln Rugby League World Cup Group Three opener at the Charlety Stadium here yesterday.

Wigan-bound Adrian Lam's try three minutes from time broke French hearts and gave his side every chance of now making the quarter-finals.

France came into the opening match of their campaign knowing that only a win would be good enough if they were to have a serious chance of advancing to the last eight. But it was PNG who got off to the brightest start, with half-backs Lam and Stanley Gene combining well in the early period.

Had handling errors not let them down - with the full-back David Buko the chief culprit - PNG could have been 18-0 up in the first 10 minutes. As it was, a hard-fought game remained scoreless until Freddie Banquet's pass put Patrice Benausse in the corner in the 14th minute. Banquet converted to make it 6-0 to the host nation.

A touchline tackle from Marcus Bai denied Benausse a second, before his opposite winger Yacine Dekkiche romped in from 20 metres in the 27th minute. Banquet converted and France held on for a comfortable 12-0 half-time lead.

PNG came out after the break determined to turn things around but it was France who further stretched their lead in the 46th minute, when the prop Rachid Hechiche touched down. Banquet missed the conversion, and Dekkiche then had a try disallowed for offside.

That seemed to wake up PNG, and Bai grabbed the try his efforts deserved in the 53rd minute, with Buko converting, to make it 16-6. Three minutes later, Alex Krewanty further reduced the deficit when he got on the end of a Lam chip over the top, but this time Buko put his conversion attempt wide.

French nerves became frayed when Buko touched down under the posts with 10 minutes remaining, after Lam and Gene had cut Les Bleus to pieces in midfield. John Wiltshere converted to level the scores. Then came Lam's killer finish via a scintillating 40-metre break. Wiltshere converted to make it 16-22 and Lam added a late drop-goal.

Hechiche scored his second try on the hooter, but it was scant consolation for the disconsolate French.

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