France brush off Tonga
France exacted revenge for their 2011 Rugby World Cup Pool defeat as they overcame a spirited Tonga side 38-18 at Stade Océane on Saturday.
A healthy level of passion from the Pacific Island side boiled over at the beginning of the second half, when Perpignan prop Sona Taumalolo unleashed a flurry of punches on Yoann Maestri.
After a fair scrap, both players were shown straight red cards by referee Glen Jackson to send them down to 14 men for the remainder of the match.
Tonga were already down a man after scrum-half Taniela Moa was sin-binned for an unacceptable elbow on Dimitri Szarzewski. It was unfortunate that those two moments of complete indiscipline will overshadow what for large parts was a exciting performance of attacking rugby from the visitors.
The early signs appeared slightly more ominous however, with Morgan Parra slotting a penalty in the second minute before debutant Sofiane Guitoune scored his first try for his country.
Rémi Talès' perfectly-executed cross kick found Guitoune in space in the right corner after good build-up in the middle by Wesley Fofana to put France up 8-0 after only a few minutes.
Fangatapu 'Apikotoa's first penalty for Tonga cannoned back off the post and it would take the fly-half half an hour to eventually put his team on the board, after Parra had added another three points to make the score 14-3.
Tonga however did enjoy large swathes of possession and their big carriers - centres Siale Piutau and Sione Piukala - along with Vunga Lilo broke plenty of tackles to keep France busy in defence.
They were unable though to register anything substantial on the scoreboard, 'Apikotoa adding a second penalty to cut the gap to eight points.
That changed right before the break when Damien Chouly dove over after a dominant five-metre scrum whilst Moa was in the bin.
Once the dust had settled from the Taumalolo-sparked brawl, France's composure grew and they delivered an excellent third try after Guitoune turned provider to send over Brice Dulin for Les Bleus' third try.
Fetu'u Vainikolo was then rewarded for Tonga's persistence with a try, Parra cautiously re-extending the gap to 20 points with a penalty, before replacement hooker Benjamin Kayser wrapped things up late on following an effective French maul for their fourth try.
Vainikolo would add a second try with a fingertip finish as time ran out, no doubt much to the frustration of Phillipe Saint-André, but France by the end were comfortable winners - emerging on top from a game that could have descended into a boxing match.
Man of the Match: For scoring a try and providing a cute assist, Sofiane Guitoune is our main man from Le Havre. His fade and then the delivery of his pass for Dulin's try was exceptional.
Moment of the Match: The classless elbow from Taniela Moa on Szarzewski was pointless and gave France a numerical advantage that ended in a try before the break.
Villain of the Match: Maestri also saw red, but Sona Taumalolo's first swing appeared to be completely unprovoked. Bizarre.
Tries: Guitoune, Chouly, Dulin, Kayser
Con: Parra 2, Michalak
Pen: Parra 4
Red card: Maestri (42 mins)
Tries: Vainikolo 2
Pen: 'Apikotoa 2
Yellow card: Moa (40 mins)
Red card: Taumalolo (42 mins)
France: 15 Brice Dulin, 14 Sofiane Guitoune, 13 Gael Fickou, 12 Wesley Fofana, 11 Maxime Médard, 10 Rémi Talès, 9 Morgan Parra, 8 Damien Chouly, 7 Fulgence Ouedraogo, 6 Thierry Dusautoir (c), 5 Yoann Maestri, 4 Sebastien Vahaamahina, 3 Nicolas Mas, 2 Dimitri Szarzewski, 1 Yannick Forestier.
Replacements: 16 Benjamin Kayser, 17 Vincent Debaty, 18 Rabah Slimani, 19 Pascale Papé, 20 Bernard Le Roux, 21 Jonathan Pélissié, 22 Frederic Michalak, 23 Mathieu Bastareaud.
Tonga: 15 Vunga Lilo, 14 Fetu'u Vainikolo, 13 Siale Piutau, 12 Sione Piukala, 11 Viliami Helu 10 Fangatapu 'Apikotoa, 9 Taniela Moa, 8 Opeti Fonua, 7 Nili Latu (c), 6 Sione Kalamafoni, 5 Joe Tu'ineau, 4 Lua Lokotui, 3 Tevita Mailau, 2 Elvis Taione, 1 Sona Taumalolo.
Replacements: 16 Viliami Ma'asi, 17 Taione Vea, 18 Sila Puafisi, 19 Viliami Ma'afu, 20 Hale T-Pole, 21 Samisoni Fisilau, 22 Latiume Fosita, 23 David Halaifonua.
Referee: Glen Jackson