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.


Dortmund, Favre face tough questions after Bayern’s ‘big step’

Updated 29 May 2020

Dortmund, Favre face tough questions after Bayern’s ‘big step’

  • Several German newspapers have suggested Favre is set to leave at the end of the season

BERLIN: Borussia Dortmund visit bottom side Paderborn on Sunday with uncertainty surrounding the future of coach Lucien Favre after Tuesday’s 1-0 defeat by Bayern Munich left their Bundesliga title dreams in tatters.

Favre and Dortmund were forced to deny rumors that he is set to resign, and face Paderborn attempting to at least keep some pressure on reigning champions Bayern, who sit seven points clear with six matches remaining.

Second-placed Dortmund may also have to make do without Erling Braut Haaland, after the teenage sensation was injured against Bayern, reportedly in an accidental collision with the referee.

Swiss Favre was forced to clarify comments made on Tuesday when he said he would “talk about it (his future) in a few weeks,” saying the following day that he was not “giving up at all.”

Several German newspapers have suggested Favre is set to leave at the end of the season, with Niko Kovac, who was sacked by Bayern last year, reported to be his likely successor.

“We are certainly not having a coaching debate,” Dortmund sporting director Michael Zorc insisted to Sport1.

“Lucien must have expressed himself misleadingly in a moment immediately after the game.”

Barring an unlikely late-season collapse from Bayern, it will be the second straight season that Favre’s Dortmund have pushed their rivals close in the title race before ultimately coming up short.

Dortmund led for much of the campaign last term but stumbled late to finish two points off the pace.

“We said before the season that we wanted to play for the title again,” added Zorc.

“We didn’t manage to be better than Bayern. Now we can be disappointed, take a deep breath, and then set a new goal for Sunday. Full focus is on second place.”

Dortmund will be confident of getting back on track against a Paderborn side who are rooted to the foot of the table, eight points adrift of the relegation playoff spot, despite three consecutive draws since the Bundesliga resumed following the coronavirus lockdown.

“We mustn’t talk of a miracle because there are still 18 points to be won,” said Paderborn coach Steffen Baumgart.

“As long as it’s still mathematically possible we have to give it everything we’ve got.”

Bayern are now firmly on track for a record-extending eighth straight title and on Saturday host a Fortuna Duesseldorf side who boosted their survival hopes with a 2-1 midweek win against freefalling Schalke.

“We set out to take a big step (against Dortmund). We succeeded. We showed a lot of determination,” said Bayern coach Hansi Flick.

Duesseldorf, who occupy the relegation playoff spot, are five points clear of second-bottom Werder Bremen, although the four-time Bundesliga champions have a game in hand.

Bremen, who have only spent one season out of the top flight since the Bundesliga’s formation in 1963, visit Schalke on Saturday.

Schalke coach David Wagner is under pressure after his side threw away their European hopes with a 10-match winless run, including three straight defeats since the restart of the season.

Dortmund will need Jadon Sancho to be back at his best on Sunday, with Haaland’s injury leaving them without a recognized out-and-out striker.

English winger Sancho is yet to start a game since the restart after his own fitness problems, but has featured as a subsitute in all three matches.

The 20-year-old has scored 17 goals in all competitions this season.