Yannick Jauzion scored a hat-trick and Christophe Dominici touched down twice as France overpowered Fiji 61–18 and gave the islanders a seven–try lesson in running rugby in their Pool B opener yesterday.
Imanol Harinordoquy and Raphael Ibanez also crossed the Fijian line in a game that exploded into violence in the second half with a player from each side – French flanker Olivier Magne and Fijian winger Rupeni Caucaunibuca – sent to the sinbin for brawling.
The lopsided result earned the French a bonus point and vaulted them to the top of Pool B, a position they are widely expected to keep through the end of their remaining matches against Japan, Scotland and the United States.
After getting off to a shaky start under the jeers of a pro–Fijian crowd of 47,000 at Suncorp Stadium, the French settled down to their game plan: punching holes in the center of the Fijian line with their forwards to make opportunities out wide for their hard–running backs, led by Jauzion, Dominici and Tony Marsh.
"It was a very good performance, we had some good moves and good momentum," said the French captain, scrum half Fabien Galthie. "Fiji started the game well but it was a beautiful match for the (French) backs."
Fiji's pack appeared to tire midway through the first half, missing tackles and leaving gaps for French backrowers Harinordoquy and Fabien Pelous.
The islanders were also stung by a series of infractions at the breakdown that were turned into easy points by flyhalf Frederic Michalak, who ignored a hails of boos to hit six out of eight penalties in a game–high 26–point performance.
"We lost our composure," said Fiji's coach Mac McCallion, citing discipline, turnovers and shoddy tackling as culprits for behind his team's convincing defeat. "That cost us dearly against a very polished French side."
But the first critical mistake of the game was made by the French.
In the 17th minute, after the two sides exchanged penalty goals, winger Aurelien Rougerie sliced a clearance kick from inside his 22. It was pounced on by center Seru Rabeni, who set up lock Api Naevo for the try with a slick backhand pass.
But Michalak's boot added two penalties and, with Fiji's defense regularly moving backward, the classy French backs found more space to run than their counterparts when the ball was spun wide.
"It's a lot easier for their backline when their forwards are doing the job up front," said center Seru Rabeni.
The hero of France's 1999 World Cup campaign Dominici put the French in the clear 17–8 when he finished off a shortside move from a scrum about 15 meters out.
Three minutes later it was 24–8, when Harinordoquy scored a pushover try after the Fijians had stopped another flowing French move by giving away a penalty close to the posts.
Fiji fought back early in the second half, bringing the crowd momentarily to life. Little converted a penalty immediately after the restart to climb to 24–11 before a sevens–style looping pass launched Super 12 speedster Rupeni Caucaunibuca for the try of the match.
But Fiji would get no closer to a French side that refused to be rattled, showing the patience and discipline that coach Bernard Laporte has tried to drill into a team long notorious for losing its cool.
"We were extremely satisfied with the players' presence of mind," Laporte said. "It was not an easy match."
The sharpshooting Michalak added six points to the margin before the French backline exploded again. Jauzion took an inside pass from Marsh following a typically imaginative sweeping move from midfield, and Michalak made a difficult angled conversion to take the score to 37–18.
Violence broke out in the 63rd minute after a double tackle on Michalak. Fists flew among several players and Irish referee Alain Rolland sent Caucaunibuca and Magne to the sinbin for 10 minutes. The Fijian try scorer appeared lucky not to receive a red card for twice aiming and landing punches.
McCallion said he thought his winger had "paid the (proper) penalty." Laporte called the incident "unacceptable," but his team had no plans to take up the matter with a disciplinary committee.
"It is not the time for that," said manager Jo Maso. "It was the first match, we won easily and I think the lessons (to be learned) are there."
With both teams down to 14 players, Jauzion scored his second try in the 67th minute with more help from his partner at center, Marsh.
Jauzion – who scored three tries in France's warmup match against the French Barbarians last month – repeated the trick in the 72nd minute of Saturday's opener when Dominici cut inside and fed the 25–year–old Stade Toulousain center, who won just his 11th cap since 2001.
The costarring role played by Marsh in Jauzion's banner performance appeared to validate Laporte's surprise decision to start the New Zealand–born center, who donned the jersey of his adopted country for the first time in more than a year after being sidelined by injuries and a battle with cancer.
"He performed well and clicked with Yannick," said Laporte. "When you have two good players, it is easy to put them together."
Ibanez went over for another pushover try before Dominici added his second in injury time to take the French past 60 points.
France can now look ahead to a relatively easier match against Japan on Saturday in Townsville, while Fiji takes on the United States in Brisbane on Wednesday.
Tries: Jauzion 3, Dominici 2, Harinordoquy, Ibanez
Cons: Michalak 4
Pens: Michalak 6
Tries: Naevo, Caucaunibuca
Pens: Little 2
Half-time: 24-8 Attendance: 50,000
France: N Brusque; A Rougerie (P Elhorga, 56), T Marsh, Y Jauzion (D Traille, 77), C Dominici; F Michalak (G Merceron, 77), F Galthié (capt); J-J Crenca, R Ibañez (Y Bru, 78), J-B Poux, F Pelous, J Thion (O Brouzet, 70), S Betsen, I Harinordoquy, O Magne (C Labit, 75).
Fiji: N Ligairi (W Serevi, 59); V Delasau (M Vunibaka, 65), A Tuilevu, S Rabeni, R Cacaunibuca; N Little, M Rauluni (S Rabaka, 78); R Nyholt, G Smith, J Veitayaki (N Seru, 66), I Rawaqa, A Naevo (K Leawere, 69), S Koyamaibole, A Doviverata (capt), K Salawa (K Sewabu, 57).
Referee: A Rolland (Ireland).Reuse content