France's Alivereti Raka is congratulated by teammate Baptiste Serin, left, after scoring a try during the Rugby World Cup Pool C game at Kumamoto Stadium between France and Tonga in Kumamoto on Sunday. Photo: AP/Aaron Favila
rugby world cup 2019

France beat Tonga 23-21 to reach Rugby World Cup quarterfinals

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By JEROME PUGMIRE

France held off a spirited Tonga comeback to win 23-21 and join group rival England in the Rugby World Cup quarterfinals.

Les Bleus lost 19-14 to Tonga eight years ago in one of the tournament's big upsets. This time Tonga rallied from 17-0 down and a late try from flanker Zane Kapeli brought it within two points of France. But there was only one minute left and France held firm in a match where it had two second-half tries disallowed following a video review.

Next Saturday's match against England decides the top spot in Pool C between two sides with three wins each.

France led 10-0 after just six minutes at Kumamoto Stadium, with flyhalf Romain Ntamack landing a penalty goal and then converted center Virimi Vakatawa's try after he was set up by a brilliant break from left winger Alivereti Raka.

The French appeared to be in the mood and, after Tonga knocked-on about 20 meters out, gained 60 meters through several phases on a surging counterattack. It ended with Tonga conceding a penalty on its own 22, but Ntamack miscued from the left.

Raka made two further strong breaks through midfield before capping an excellent half with his team's second try. Taking a quick pass from scrumhalf Baptiste Serin, he collected his own kick ahead, judged the bounce well and rolled over for a try after 33 minutes.

Tonga replied with a converted try right on halftime by Sonatane Takulua, who peeled off the back of the scrum and just made it over the line. It was awarded following a decision by the Television Match Official and he converted to cut France's lead to 17-7.

Center Malietoa Hingano got Tonga's second converted try early in the second half, after collecting right winger Cooper Vuna's kick downfield and judging the bounce better than France fullback Maxime Medard.

Hingano's try came just moments after France flanker Charles Ollivon had one disallowed when the TMO showed lock Sebastien Vahaamahina feeding him a forward pass.

Ntamack's two penalties gave France a little breathing space again at 23-14 with 20 minutes left, and when right winger Damian Penaud collected replacement scrumhalf Antoine Dupont's short pass the relief from French fans was evident.

Their cheers turned to jeers when the TMO showed Medard's arm knocking the ball on when he spilled a high kick during the build up to the try.

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It would be interesting to see a comparison of the Physical abilities of Soccer vs Rugby vs American Football vs Aussie Rules Football... American Football, I think would be last. And Rugby vs Aussie Rules.. be in a debatable position.

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There are different sorts of physical abilities. The fastest guys are in American Football -- a fair percentage of whom competed at a high level as sprinters in collegiate athletics. American Football offensive and defensive lineman are the strongest also.

Rugby and Aussie rules feature some different combinations of size and general athleticism not frequently found in American Football, because the Gridiron game has more specialization in positions.

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