Rugby World Cup
France left sweating on Yoann Huget injury
Tom Hamilton
September 19, 2015
France 32-10 Italy (video available in Australia only)

TWICKENHAM, London -- First the woes of Croydon and now injury. The joy of victory was tinged with sadness from a French perspective. Yoann Huget is now a Rugby World Cup doubt as even the most optimistic tricolore supporter must be wondering whether they will see the winger again in this tournament.

If there are any of the Fijian leaves that healed Waiseko Naholo still available, the French medical department should get on the next plane to the Islands and bring them back for Wesley Fofana to ensure his injured thigh is completely healed.

Without him anchoring their midfield at 12, their attempts at stringing together any fluidity in their planned moves came unstuck far too often against Italy in their opening match of this Rugby World Cup, resulting in misdirection and scrambled efforts to regain shape. With him there, they would have been far more convincing and approaching the France the rugby world has been waiting to see in the Philippe Saint-Andre era.

Louis Picamoles consoles Yoann Huget as the injured France wing is helped from the field
Louis Picamoles consoles Yoann Huget as the injured France wing is helped from the field© David Rogers/Getty Images

First the positives for France. Louis Picamoles was wonderful and was at the centre of anything and everything they did well. There was a wonderful moment in the first half where he took a high ball, outjumping the flailing Italian winger, to then sprint on and kick ahead, forcing Italy into a monumental volte face. He looks slimmed down and back to his best. For all the talk of Sam Burgess and others being the new-look hybrid combination of a player who can master both forwards and backs attributes, Picamoles personifies that figure.

Their front-row also gave Italy a harsh lesson with Martin Castrogiovanni's unrivalled passion during the anthem soon quashed by a beasting in the pack.

And even without Fofana in the side, they still have plenty of attacking threat in their team. The move prior to Rabah Slimani's try saw Noa Nakaitaci come in off his wing to attack the heart of the Italian defence and then offload to Guilhem Guirado who was hauled down just short by Luke McLean. Scott Spedding also oozes class from fullback. He is someone who just doesn't put a foot wrong.

But that their two tries came from props from close range efforts suggests they are yet to find their true rhythm in the backs and the same goes for the Television Match Official at this World Cup.

Nakaitaci should have scored in the first half but for another one of these infuriating TMO incidents where it required two independent checks with Shaun Veldsman before referee Craig Joubert ruled it out. It was the correct call but the process took painfully long. Come the second half, just how Guirado stayed on the pitch for his neck roll on an Italian only Joubert knows. World Rugby asked their referees to clamp down on such actions - Calum Clark fell foul to it in England's match against the French at Twickenham on August 15 -- but this one went unpunished.

Which seems apt, given that France are also in a place of indecision right now. They are caught between that desire to attack through the middle through the bulldozing Mathieu Bastauread -- his hit on Tommaso Allan awoke Twickenham in the second half -- or go for the fleet-footed Nakaitaci and Yoann Huget, the latter coming off with what looked to be a serious injury.

For Italy, they too lacked structure and seemed a team of individuals rather than a well-drilled unit. Their best player was scrum-half Edoardo Gori but their frequent plan to attack through the middle frustrated left wing Leonardo Sarto -- he frequently gesticulated in irritation to the night sky -- while on the rare occasion they did spread it wide, Giovanbattista Venditti scored.

It all had the feeling of being the dustcart after the Lord Mayor's show in Brighton earlier today but France have done enough to get their World Cup off on the right note. They were far from perfect but they look to have the right cocktail in the pack, it's just sorting out the potency of the backs which needs work. It will need further tweaking given the injury to Huget, a man who personifies the Gallic flair so seldom seen in this current regime. They will be boosted by the expected return of Fofana, hopefully against Romania on Wednesday, but they will return to their much maligned Croydon base furiously keeping everything crossed over Huget.

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© Tom Hamilton

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