France have essentially changed their whole team, with 12 of the starters being new. It would be a lie to say they don’t look weaker, you can’t take Aldritt, Dupont and Penaud out of a team and not have a drop in quality, but this still looks like a side that would comfortably beat almost all comers and it’s still a question of how many, not if. Uruguay had a bye in week one. Most of us might not recognise many of these names, but Arata is generally regarded as the second best scrum half in the Top14, that’s behind Dupont. Like Dupont, he plays le petit général role, and bosses Castres around. Castres lost in the Top14 final in 2022, they’re a quality side.
France: 15 Melvyn Jaminet, 14 Louis Bielle-Biarrey, 13 Arthur Vincent, 12 Yoram Moefana, 11 Gabin Villière, 10 Antoine Hastoy, 9 Maxime Lucu, 8 Anthony Jelonch (c), 7 Sekou Macalou, 6 Paul Boudehent, 5 Romain Taofifenua, 4 Cameron Woki, 3 Dorian Aldegheri, 2 Pierre Bourgarit, 1 Jean-Baptiste Gros
Replacements: 16 Peato Mauvaka, 17 Reda Wardi, 18 Sipili Falatea, 19 Bastien Chalureau, 20 Thibaud Flament, 21 Francois Cros, 22 Baptiste Couilloud, 23 Thomas Ramos
Uruguay: 15 Baltazar Amaya, 14 Bautista Basso, 13 Tomas Inciarte, 12 Andres Vilaseca (c), 11 Nicolas Freitas, 10 Felipe Etcheverry, 9 Santiago Arata, 8 Manuel Diana, 7 Santiago Civetta, 6 Manuel Ardao, 5 Manuel Leindekar, 4 Felipe Aliaga, 3 Ignacio Peculo, 2 Guillermo Pujadas, 1 Mateo Sanguinetti
Replacements: 16 Facundo Gattas, 17 Matias Benitez, 18 Reinaldo Piussi, 19 Ignacio Dotti, 20 Lucas Bianchi, 21 Carlos Deus, 22 Agustin Ormaechea, 23 Felipe Berchesi
Basically straight from the kickoff there was a scrum, inside the Uruguayan 22, and France got awarded a penalty. Whether you call it respect or playing the standard game plan, France took the three. From that restart, Uruguay caught Bielle-Biarrey defending too narrow and a deft kick led to a try in the corner. This was so similar to the early Telea try that I think here might be a specific defensive ploy and weakness that teams have spotted. That restart led to a lovely break around the edge by Lucu, a scrum by France when they were awarded a penalty on the 5m line and a nice try by Hastoy. Jaminet proved why it’s a hard choice between him and Ramos. And that was the first ten minutes! Although the scoring calmed down a bit, France were running riot in the loose, punching holes through the Uruguayan defensive almost at will, winning free kicks and penalties at almost every scrum and making a mess of their lineouts as well. Scramble defence, holding the tackled player up and the like prevented the French scoring from their dominance. France had a player shown yellow, borderline on the upgrade in my opinion but no complaints, and in that period Uruguay touched the ball down, but it was called back for obstruction. Right call – the blocked player was hit on the outside shoulder, knocked back by a player in front of the ball, and still almost got over to attempt a tackle. But, if Uruguay can get down there, they can score. France ended the half pressing hard, and if Hastoy’s kick had been a little better they could have extended their lead. It was not to be, so 13-5 at the break. France need to focus, yes, but Uruguay have defended well, and attacked well on both occasions they’ve been close enough to strike. Italy will look at this and wonder.
The second half started with a lovely line break by Uruguay, their first, but excellent French maul defence snuffed that attack out. Cros, I think, chased a kick and knocked it on calling back a touchdown by Villière, which led to mass substitutions. That didn’t reach improve things for France, as Uruguay scored their second try a couple of minutes later to pull within a point. Instantly Mauvaka responded with a try under the posts to stretch the lead back to eight. France took an option you don’t see often, from offside in front of the kicker, they took the scrum where the kick was taken. Why? But they won a penalty, took the lineout, then lost possession again. It’s hard to tell how many of these are French sloppiness and how many Uruguayan sharp defence, but that one looked like one to the team in orange. This sort of tussle continued but sometimes it was clearly Les Bleus at fault. There was a simple lineout play that resulted in a knock on. I don’t know who was at fault but the catcher tried to hand the ball back to the player in the half-back position. He wasn’t looking so the ball went to ground. While I’ve highlighted this incident, it was one of all too many by the French that showed how disjointed they were. France really put the game beyond reach with a nice move finished off by Bielle-Biarrey. France had what looked like another try, this one was called back for kicking the ball through the ruck. While Ben O’Keeffe didn’t endear himself to the locals in Lille, I think he got all the big calls right. But four disallowed tries, three to the French, no bonus point for France is big. Some of those denied tries were at critical moments too, the Villière try and the Macalou try (called back for the kick through) came at times when it seemed that a try would spark both the team and the crowd into life and cause the score to run away. Final score 27-12
Uruguay played well and spoiled things for France when they were playing well. But France played poorly too, increasingly so. That suggests it was a young team without much cohesion of leadership, which is probably fair for most dirt track sides, which is what this was. For France, Mauvaka played well, Macalou and Jelonch looked fine. Jaminet did everything asked of him. Hastoy is really early in his international career, he didn’t have the best game but he’s got more experience in playing their systems which will help if Jalibert is injured. He’ll also have different players on either side of him which will help him in that situation. Uruguay might have shot their bolt. You do see that sometimes at World Cups. But if they can play like this again next week, Italy might struggle or even lose.