• While France have shone only in patches in all three of their pool games, which included a laboured 33-9 win over the United States, Brunel said he was not alarmed.
• The All Blacks overcame a sloppy first 30 minutes against the lowest-ranked side at the World Cup to run in 11 tries and move to the top of Pool B before they play Italy in their final game next Saturday in Toyota City.
Frustrated coach Jacques Brunel said France could only improve ahead of their blockbuster Pool C clash against England after surviving a big scare against Tonga to stumble into the World Cup quarter-finals on Sunday.
Just as in their opener against Argentina, France held on for a nerve-jangling 23-21 win, having built a big lead in the first half before seeing it frittered away after the break at Kumamoto Stadium.
The result left France second in the pool behind unbeaten England, and the northern hemisphere rivals will play off for top spot when they meet in Yokohama on Saturday.
While France have shone only in patches in all three of their pool games, which included a laboured 33-9 win over the United States, Brunel said he was not alarmed.
“I’m not worried but unsatisfied. The players are frustrated. They attacked the game well and had good opportunities to score in the first half. “But they made mistakes by rushing and by poor handling. We had wanted to play a better game. There is still work to do.”
The Fijian flair of winger Alivereti Raka and centre Virimi Vakatawa shone during the balmy twilight match, with each scoring first-half tries and repeatedly combining to menace the Tongan defence.
After the break, however, France had two tries cancelled on review by the TMO and could rely only on two penalties from young flyhalf Romain Ntamack to hold on as Tonga came roaring back with a try by centre Malietoa Hingano and the last-gasp five-pointer to flanker Zane Kapeli.
France will face the true test of their level when they take on Eddie Jones’s England in ‘Le Crunch’, and captain Jefferson Poirot, their third skipper in Japan, said they would be working to improve their scrums after struggling against the Tongan pack.
Meanwhile, All Blacks coach Steve Hansen have no problems with yellow cards being given to two of his players in their 71-9 victory over Namibia in their match on Sunday, but reminded World Rugby that sometimes ‘contact was unavoidable’.
The All Blacks overcame a sloppy first 30 minutes against the lowest-ranked side at the World Cup to run in 11 tries and move to the top of Pool B before they play Italy in their final game next Saturday in Toyota City.
New Zealand, however, had props Nepo Laulala and Ofa Tuungafasi sinbinned by referee Pascal Gauzere for high tackles, even though both Namibian players were falling when contact occurred, which possibly saved Hansen’s players from a potential red.
“I thought the two yellow cards were fair under the guidelines,” Hansen said. “But it is tough when a player is falling and you are committed, (because) then there are going to be times when you make connection and I’m not sure how you can avoid that.
“I think that is why they have allowed for the mitigating circumstances and it only becomes yellow card.”
World Rugby has cracked down on making contact with the head at the tournament and took the unusual step of admonishing their own officials following the first weekend of matches after several incidents went unpunished.
Since then three players, John Quill of the United States, Uruguay’s Facundo Gattas and Argentina’s Tomas Lavanini have all been sent off for dangerous tackles involving contact with the head. While teams have all spoken about specifically training to lower their target heights when making tackles, Hansen said there were times where contact with the head was purely accidental.
“It is difficult at the moment,” Hansen added. “The powers that be are asking us all to tidy it up and I think each team is doing their best, but sometimes there are circumstances that are just about unavoidable. Unfortunately that is where the game is at the moment.”