France qualify for quarterfinals in World Cup cliffhanger

France players applaud fans after the match against Tonga on Sunday. (Reuters)
Updated 07 October 2019

France qualify for quarterfinals in World Cup cliffhanger

KUMAMOTO, JAPAN: France qualified for the Rugby World Cup quarterfinals on Sunday with a nailbiting 23-21 win against Tonga that sets up a winner-take-all clash with England to top Pool C.

First-half tries by Virimi Vakatawa and man-of-the-match Alivereti Raka were enough to secure the win for Les Bleus against a spirited Tongan side that competed throughout a tense encounter at the Kumamoto Stadium.

Tonga topped the try-scoring count three-two against a French side that again produced a stop-start performance as they did in their first two games against Argentina and the US.

It was three penalties by Romain Ntamack that got France through to a quarterfinal likely against either Wales or Australia from Pool D — although Fiji still have a mathematical chance of a last-eight spot.

The famous French flair was on display for the first six minutes as they raced to a 10-0 lead, roared on by a loud chorus of “allez Les Bleus” from the crowd.

It was to prove an important buffer as Tonga fought back to trail by only three points at 17-14 early in the second half with the heavier Pacific island pack troubling France at scrum time.

When Ntamack penalties extended the French lead to nine points, the tireless Tongans rallied to score a third try.

While England motored through their first three matches, it has not been as easy for an inconsistent France who have been hit hard by injuries and were starting their third half-back pairing in as many matches with Baptiste Serin and Ntamack.

They also made 11 changes from their last outing against the US to take the field with arguably the strongest available lineup.

They produced an explosive start while the crowd were still getting settled when a penalty by Ntamack was followed by a try to New Zealand-born center Vakatawa following a stolen lineout.

The attack lines and off-loads were France at their best but just as quickly the unforced errors that troubled them against Argentina and the US returned.

Tonga settled and began to make a contest of it using their big men to target inside backs Ntamack and Sofiane Guitoune to disrupt the French flow.

It would be 26 minutes between tries for France with their second touchdown coming from the ever-dangerous Raka who chipped past Cooper Vuna and won the race for the ball.

Again France swayed between class and defensive errors and after a sustained attack by the Tongan forward, scrum-half Sonatane Takulua dived around a ruck to score and convert his own try on the stroke of halftime.


Formula E promises ‘most attacking season yet’ as Saudi Arabia gears up for Diriyah E-Prix

Updated 19 November 2019

Formula E promises ‘most attacking season yet’ as Saudi Arabia gears up for Diriyah E-Prix

  • New rules changes including the fastest Attack Mode ever promise thrilling scenes at the iconic Diriyah Circuit on the outskirts of Riyadh

RIYADH: Formula E has promised racing fans in Saudi Arabia the most attacking start to a season yet, including the fastest-ever Attack Mode to be debuted at Diriyah Circuit in the Kingdom this weekend.

Diriyah, a UNESCO World Heritage site on the outskirts of Riyadh, is hosting the opening round of the ABB FIA Formula E Championship with a doubleheader of races on Nov. 22 and 23.

For its sixth season, the championship organizers have promised an improved Attack Mode – dubbed by some as ‘Mario Kart mode’ – which will mean an even bigger power boost for drivers, rising from 225kW to 235kW.

The track for the Diriyah E-Prix features one of the longest straights of any track on the Formula E circuit — a clear opportunity for drivers to activate the speed boost.

According to Formula E rules, all drivers must use Attack Mode during the race – but the number of times they have to use it and how long the power boost lasts for varies from track to track and teams are only informed an hour before the race so they cannot plan their tactics too far in advance.

To activate Attack Mode, drivers must drive through the Attack Zone on the same straight after turn 17 at the Diriyah Circuit, which could cause them to have to slow down to gain the reward they can use when they need it most. Fans will know if a driver has activated their Attack Zone as the ‘halo’ on their Gen 2 race car will glow blue.

Andre Lotterer, of the Tag Heuer Porsche Formula E team, said: “We can show the world that you can race with electric cars. The sport is growing a lot and it is getting more and more difficult to win but that is part of the challenge.”

For the sixth season of the electric racing series, the Federation Internationale de l’Automobile (FIA) has also introduced changes this year to encourage drivers to conserve power, especially during stoppages, in a bid to end scenes in previous seasons that saw drivers running out of power yards from the finish line.

Lotterer said: “The energy management is going to be different. The rules have changed this year, it means that when there are interruptions in the race such as the safety car or a red flag or full course yellow flag, last year we were saving energy in those moments and having more energy to finish the race.

“That changed the strategy and the dynamic of the race, it made it more difficult to overtake. This year I think it will be more strategic, I think it will be more based on efficiency and I think it will be interesting for everyone watching.”

The Diriyah Circuit has been hailed by drivers as one of the most beautiful and challenging on the circuit.

Samer Issa-El-Khoury, Managing Partner at CBX, the firm that oversaw construction of the iconic track, said: “It has one of the most turns of any other circuit in Formula E, we have 21 turns, which will make for a super exciting race.

“What is very challenging for the drivers is that some of the turns are ascending, some of them are descending, so not only do you have a slope but you have a slope and a corner, one second you are going down the next going up.

“This will show the drivers’ prowess and technical ability to cope with those turns, because it is so easy to make a mistake, to lose speed if you take it a little bit wrong.

“Also, at the end of turn 17 you have one of the longest straights, with the new Attack Zone that has been introduced. I think it’s going to be as interesting to see how this attack zone will happen, and whatever they gain on that, they might lose it on the turns.

“All this makes makes the Diriyah E-Prix more of a drivers’ race than a car or teams’ race,” he added.

The Diriyah E-Prix is part of Diriyah Season, a month of sports events such as the “Clash on the Dunes” world heavyweight boxing title fight, top-class men’s tennis and an elite equestrian contest.