France withstands ferocious comeback to beat Argentina 23-21

CORRECTS NAME OF SCORER : France's Gael Fickou, right, dives across the line to score a try during the Rugby World Cup Pool C game at Tokyo Stadium between France and Argentina in Tokyo, Japan, Saturday, Sept. 21, 2019. (AP Photo/Christophe Ena)
French players embrace after defeating Argentina 23-21 in the Rugby World Cup Pool C game at Tokyo Stadium between France and Argentina in Tokyo, Japan, Saturday, Sept. 21, 2019. (AP Photo/Christophe Ena)
France's Maxime Machenaud kicks the ball as Argentina's Pablo Matera attempts to charge it down during the Rugby World Cup Pool C game at Tokyo Stadium between France and Argentina in Tokyo, Japan, Saturday, Sept. 21, 2019. (AP Photo/Christophe Ena)
Argentina's Emiliano Boffelli is tackled in the air by France's Gael Fickou during the Rugby World Cup Pool C game at Tokyo Stadium between France and Argentina in Tokyo, Japan, Saturday, Sept. 21, 2019. (AP Photo/Eugene Hoshiko)
Argentina's Emiliano Boffelli, left, and France's Damian Penaud collide as they leap for the ball during the Rugby World Cup Pool C game at Tokyo Stadium between France and Argentina in Tokyo, Japan, Saturday, Sept. 21, 2019. (AP Photo/Eugene Hoshiko)

TOKYO — France withstood a ferocious second-half comeback from Argentina to win 23-21 in a tension-filled Rugby World Cup group opener on Saturday.

After Argentina rallied from 20-3 down at halftime to lead by one point, France flyhalf Camille Lopez landed a priceless dropped goal to restore the lead with 11 minutes remaining.

Argentina had a chance to win it with a last-minute, long-range penalty attempt, but a tactical switch proved the wrong move as Emiliano Boffelli replaced Benjamin Urdapilleta — who had landed the previous two penalties with assurance — and missed from 47 meters.

Argentina then threw everyone forward in one final onslaught and players from both teams clashed as emotions erupted at the final whistle — overwhelming relief for France; bitter despair for Argentina.

Back in February, France led Wales 16-0 at halftime in the Six Nations and lost.

Surely not déjà-vu?

Lopez ensured not.

From some distance, he made a snap decision, swung his boot and his dropped kick only just crept over the crossbar.

In a tough pool containing 2003 champion England, this was a massive win for France and a soul-crushing 10th straight defeat for Argentina.

France does not do cruise control anymore, even after fine tries from center Gaël Fickou and bustling scrumhalf Antoine Dupont put Les Bleus in complete control in a first half which saw assured flyhalf Romain Ntamack convert both tries and add two penalties.

He then went from 4/4 to 4/5, missing a late penalty which would have given the French a five-point buffer. He had some nervous moments before Boffelli also missed his shot at goal.

Argentina took the early lead through flyhalf Nicolás Sánchez's 14th-minute penalty, but was outplayed for the remainder of the first half.

The second half was a contrast.

No. 8 Ortega Desio rose imperiously to cleanly take a lineout near the line and lock Guido Petti burrowed over for a converted score to start the comeback.

France was getting smashed in the pack, and replacement Pumas hooker Julian Montoya pulled another try back in the 53rd following a driving maul. Sánchez missed the conversion, his kicking was clearly off.

So Urdapilleta took over, and his penalties suddenly had Argentina 21-20 ahead with 12 minutes left.

Los Pumas fans were doing all the singing among the 44,000 fans at Tokyo Stadium, drowning out nervous French fans dreading recent history repeating itself.

In the end, the French fans had their voices back.

___

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

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