French score 5 tries, beat spirited US Eagles at World Cup

FUKUOKA, Japan (AP) — France was back to its inconsistent worst before rallying with late tries to beat a spirited U.S. Eagles lineup 33-9 in their Rugby World Cup Pool C match on Wednesday.

Three-time finalist France joins group rival England on two wins and is a step closer to maintaining its record of never failing to reach the knockout stages.

But this was largely a match to forget for coach Jacques Brunel's error-strewn squad as poor handling and positional play allowed the Americans to get within three points with 16 minutes remaining thanks to flyhalf AJ MacGinty's third penalty goal of the game.

The "USA, USA" chants were getting louder at Fukuoka's Hakatanomori Stadium, and the memory of an upset 19-14 loss to Tonga at the 2011 World Cup was doubtless looming larger in French minds.

The relief was evident when center Gael Fickou spotted a gap and broke two tackles for a converted try with a little more than 10 minutes left.

Finally the U.S. cracked.

Replacement scrumhalf Baptiste Serin used his speed to peel away for France's fourth try, after good work from right winger Alivereti Raka and flanker Yacouba Camara. Replacement prop Jefferson Poirot gleefully grabbed the fifty try with the clock ticking down.

France led 12-6 at halftime after flyhalf Camille Lopez set up tries inside the opening 25 minutes for wingers Yoann Huget and Raka with kicks into the corners.

But countless French errors kept the U.S. in contention at the break, with MacGinty landing two first-half penalties from in front of the posts.

"I'm incredibly proud of this group of players. I really feel we did go toe to toe-toe, we never did give up the fight," U.S. head coach Gary Gold said. "When you play a team of the French caliber, if you make mistakes in crucial areas of the field they will punish you."

France's strong reserves bench made the difference in handing the U.S. Eagles their second defeat of the tournament after a 45-7 loss to 2003 champion England.

"We performed a lot better today than against England. Toward the latter stages of the game the luck went against us," Gold said. "Up until that stage we were asking questions of them."

France's next game is against Tonga on Sunday, while the Eagles take on two-time semifinalist Argentina three days later.

The French still need to fine-tune their game and, as often is the case, simply don't do things in a conventional way.

After leading 20-3 at halftime in its opening game against Argentina, France needed a late dropped goal to win 23-21.

This time, the French looked comfortable at 12-3 within the opening 25 minutes but then made a string of mistakes.

France needed some leadership and hooker Guilhem Guirado — one of 12 players swapped out after the Argentina game — replaced the ineffective Camille Chat for the second half.

Keen to sharpen up, the French even did a quick coaching drill before the Americans were back out on the field.

But it made little difference, as twice they conceded turnovers from driving malls near the U.S. line early into the new half.

Les Bleus could not get things going, and even when winger-turned-center Sofiane Guitoune made a brilliant, scything run through midfield before setting up Raka in the right corner, his long and looping pass was judged to have been forward.

Still, France showed it has the ability to step up a gear and — just as play had been sloppy beforehand — the three tries were clinically taken near the end.

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More AP Rugby World Cup: https://www.apnews.com/RugbyWorldCup and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

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