October 21, 2019 / 3:12 AM / a month ago

Rugby-Brunel era closes with France still looking for the killer punch

    By Nick Mulvenney
    OITA, Japan, Oct 21 (Reuters) - In the end, the answer to
the question of which France would turn up at the World Cup was
a bit of the team that plays rugby with flair and ambition but
also a bit of the ill-disciplined rabble that can conjure defeat
from the jaws of victory. 
    For 80 minutes out of their four matches in Japan, the
French produced the brilliant running rugby that has given the
game's showpiece event some of its greatest moments over the
last four decades.
    Unfortunately for Les Bleus, the purple patches came in the
opening half of two matches and while they edged Argentina in
the first, they were unable to hold onto a 19-10 lead in
Sunday's quarter-final defeat to Wales.
    Even when reduced to 14 men by the 49th-minute dismissal of
lock Sebastien Vahaamahina for an elbow to the face of Welsh
flanker Aaron Wainwright in Oita on Sunday, the French believed
they should still have won.
    They did have the better of the match after the red card but
spurned opportunities to put points on the board from the
kicking tee and ultimately went down 20-19 after a Wales try six
minutes from time.
    "The best team lost, but what's important is winning. So it
makes no difference," said replacement flyhalf Camille Lopez.
    "We were better than them. You tell yourself it's impossible
to lose this match, but in the end, you lose it anyway. It's
hugely frustrating, because it's a match we had in our grasp.
    "You learn from defeats, but after a while, enough is
enough. We mustn't accept that in future. We can't accept
matches like tonight's. We have to be killers, especially in a
competition like this."
    The defeat was particularly galling as it came after a
similar loss to Wales in this year's Six Nations, when the
French surrendered a 16-0 halftime lead to go down 24-19.
    As in Paris in February, France's discipline cost them dear
not only because of the red card but also with errors of
handling and judgement.
    "Afterwards we flipped," said flanker Wenceslas Lauret.
"It's the top level - little details, as we say every time. In
these matches, you can't make a mistake – you'll pay dearly. We
lacked discipline."
    The defeat brought the curtain down on the two-year reign of
 coach Jacques Brunel.
    The 65-year-old oversaw two fourth-placed finishes in the
Six Nations and a departure from the World Cup before the
semi-finals for only the third time in nine tournaments. 
    The French host the next World Cup in 2023 so the pressure
to perform on home soil will be even greater. 
    The likes of Damian Penaud, Antoine Dupont and Gregory
Alldritt have shown there is young talent aplenty in the French
game and the task for new coach Fabien Galthie will be forging
it into a team that can play for a full 80 minutes in one match.
    "Of course it's regrettable but we have to move forward and
keep working," Lopez added after Sunday's defeat.
    "It stops tonight, but French rugby doesn't stop tonight."

 (Editing by Shri Navaratnam)
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