Despite being one of the leading teams in this 2019 tournament, France took the field and seemed a fair pairing early with the United States. The Eagles showed, for a majority of the match, they can in fact pose a threat to any of the Tier One nations they are set to face here in Japan. Off the boot of AJ MacGinty, the USA was able to keep the score close through 66 minutes, before the French offense began to click and runaway with the 33-9 victory.
Head Coach Gary Gold commented post-match, “I’m incredibly proud of this group, we went toe to toe but when you play against a team of the French caliber, where they’ve got so many great play makers who can hurt you when you make mistakes, they punish you.”
The night began with a brief period of heavy rain during the national anthems and into the first few minutes of the match. Despite the down pour only lasting a few moments, the damp conditions we’re visibly a challenge as both teams struggled to hold possession of the ball and concede a series of knock-ons. Despite the opportunities, France was able to keep in the driver’s seat with play remaining in the Eagles end for the majority of the early going.
France drew first blood with a try up the middle from Yoann Huget in the 5th minute. With ball movement a challenge in the wet conditions, the ball seemed to bounce in French favor to give early points.
In the flurry of turnovers, the United States did well to earn penalties in the first half where France gave the ball over a total of eight times.
This series of penalties would play in the United States favor during the first half, where most yardage was gained through the air as MacGinty did well kicking to touch. Before the half, MacGinty was able to bring the tee out and slot two penalty goals for 6 points. Knowing a close game would keep the French scattered, Coach Gold looked to always put points on the board.
When asked if he could see the French playing nervous, Captain Blaine Scully replied, “It was always part of the game plan. If we were able to effectively put on pressure, there would be that seed of doubt that could sink in. By and large, I think we were able to do that through the first 70 minutes, and that’s exactly what we wanted to do.”
Going into the break, the USA found themselves in a manageable 6-point deficit.
The second half would spell a different story for the French. Despite first points going to the US on another penalty kick from MacGinty, France was able to find their rhythm offensively with well executed phases carrying the ball downfield. Fumbled passes and knock ons that plagued the team early seemed to dissipate, resulting in back-to-back tries from Gael Fickou and Baptiste Serin in the 67th and 69th minute. In an instant, ending the USA’s shot at an upset.
Visibly different play in the final minutes ended up being the difference, add on a final try from Jefferson Poirot, and the final whistle blew on a 33-9 French win in Fukuoka.
“I think we were in the game the whole way,” noted Scully, “The score just got away from us in the end.”
In the post-match press conference, Gold very proudly reiterated his views on this team’s position against the toughest pool in Japan, “We planned and prepared ourselves against these four teams, we came in wanting to give ourselves a chance against all of them. We genuinely did.
I’m really confident going into the Argentina game. I’m even more confident after seeing the courage the guys showed after a severe loss against England, despite the travel and 6-day turnaround. There was an incredible amount of enthusiasm shown as they came out to play against France and have no reason to believe they won’t do the same in a few days time.”
The United States now goes into break where they travel north for Kumagaya and a match with Argentina. Catch that match and more, LIVE on NBC Sports.