France survive wobble to see off Japan
France had to withstand a second-half revival from lowly Japan before three tries in the final 10 minutes blew out to a 47-21 win at North Harbour Stadium in Albany.
The sniff of an upset looked possible midway through the second half but the French power, and experience, staved off the prospect.
However, Japan maintained the rise of the minor nations at the tournament with a performance which had the French rocked.
The Japanese got within four points but the French secured a seven-point buffer in the 66th minute when scrum-half Dimitri Yachvili landed his third penalty.
But Japan coach John Kirwan had plenty to be proud of in the way his side stood up, demonstrating impressive techniques in the set pieces and defending with purpose until giant lock Lionel Nallet gained the bonus point try in the 70th minute.
Replacement forward Pascal Pape was on the end of a turnover deep in French territory when inside-centre Ryan Nicholas lost the ball.
Wiith too many supporting players down the blindside the Japanese defences could not contain the French in the 76th minute while replacement Morgan Parra scored in injury time.
France were well served by flanker Imanol Harinordoquy and Thierry Dusautoir on the blindside while lock Julien Pierre was impressive in the set pieces.
Centre Aurelien Rougerie was a constant force in midfield with Vincent Clerc making the best of his few chances.
For Japan, scrum-half Fumiaki Tanaka and fly-half and man of the match James Arlidge teamed well with Arlidge showing good control while also scoring two tries.
France crossed for their first try in the fourth minute after Japan failed to clear a downfield kick and the ball was moved back quickly with No.8 Raphael Lakafia, Yachvili and lock Pierre combining for Pierre to score.
An intercept by French fly-half Francois Trinh-Duc saw him outpace the Japanese defence on a 60m run to the line.
But the Japanese refused to give up their positive approach. They won the lineout five metres out and Arlidge, who had already landed a penalty goal, attempted a grubber kick.
It rebounded off a French player, Arlidge regained it and had a clear run to the line.
France scored their third try four minutes later after the forwards gained field position and it was a simple case of fullback Cedric Heymans timing his entry into the backline for centre Rougerie to provide Clerc with the perfect pass to race in at the corner.
Japan had enjoyed a near 50-50 split of possession in the first half but France had 58 percent of the territory.
France squandered early scoring opportunities in the second half when two referrals to the Television Match Official were declined and paid the price when Tanaka turned over ball after a lineout.
That set in train a Japanese build-up after Tanaka took a quick tap and provided the momentum which saw Arlidge scythe through the French defence to score a superb try.
Arlidge's conversion got the Japanese to 21-25 and the French were rattled before mounting their rescue mission in the last 10 minutes.
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