James Mortimer 01.Oct.2011Getty Images
In four clashes the Pacific Islanders have now beaten Les Bleus twice, adding today’s high profile scalp to the stunning win they achieved in Nuku'ulofa in 1999.
Tonga will exit the World Cup but the result will ensure they gain automatic qualification into the 2015 tournament, and they have produced a solid campaign, after being shocked themselves by Canada.
The French will, bar history’s greatest upset in the All Blacks versus Canada match, still progress to the quarter-finals, but it will take some turnaround in form to win their first global crown after being outplayed by Tonga in nearly all facets.
Only a late try by Vincent Clerc gave France the bonus point that secured their place in the round of eight.
Up front Tonga ruled the collisions, with flanker Sione Kalamafoni all-powerful, and often France tried to avoid the contact areas and as a consequence didn’t build into their play when trying to expand their attack.
Dimitri Yachvili opened the scoring, which was evened out by Tongan kicker Kurt Morath.
Taniela Moa, who had a brilliant game, almost set up the first try, but a last ditch effort by Alexis Palisson saved the French.
Indeed the efforts of Moa and Morath in guiding the Tongan cutter around the park was remarkable, with this World Cup showcasing a far greater tactical appreciation of the game by the Pacific Island teams.
Yachvili kicked a second towards the end of the first quarter, but it would be the last time the French would lead in the match.
The crowd went wild went Morath kicked a lovely little cross kick, and Sukanaivalu Hufanga scored to give the Tongans the lead.
France went on the counterattack, but Tonga’s defence remained strong, and the first hints of a heroic upset seemed on the cards.
When Hufanga was yellow carded for a tackle on Clerc, France would have liked to have taken advantage of the extra man, but Tonga would not budge, with their defence giving them the edge.
While Morath was missing some kickable penalties, little that the Tricolours tried seemed to work, in a match where French coach Marc Lievremont was often shown to have his head buried deep within his hands.
Fabrice Estebanez was sent to the bin for a spear tackle on Joseph Tuineau, and Morath kicked the penalty, and then a French offside infringement minutes later gave Tonga a ten point advantage.
Tonga then botched a try, with Samiu Vahafolau having the chance to score, while Morath missed another penalty, but it didn’t matter as Tonga held firm – despite Clerc’s late score – to create history.
Pens: Yachvili 3
Yellow card: Estebanez (France - 65th min - lifting tackle)
Pens: Morath 4
Yellow card: Hufanga (Tonga - 39th min - lifting tackle);
France: 15 Maxime Médard, 14 Vincent Clerc, 13 Aurélien Rougerie, 12 Maxime Mermoz, 11 Alexis Palisson, 10 Morgan Parra, 9 Dimitri Yachvili, 8 Raphael Lakafia, 7 Julien Bonnaire, 6 Thierry Dusautoir (c), 5 Lionel Nallet, 4 Pascal Pape, 3 Luc Ducalcon, 2 William Servat, 1 Jean-Baptiste Poux. Replacements: 16 Dimitri Szarzewski, 17 Fabien Barcella, 18 Julien Pierre, 19 Imanol Harinordoquy, 20 Francois Trinh-Duc, 21 Fabrice Estebanez, 22 Cédric Heymans.
Tonga: 15 Vungakoto Lilo, 14 Viliame Iongi, 13 Siale Piutau, 12 Andrew Ma'ilei, 11 Sukanaivalu Hufanga, 10 Kurt Morath, 9 Taniela Moa, 8 Viliami Ma'afu, 7 Finau Maka (captain), 6 Sione Kalamafoni, 5 Paino Hehea, 4 Tukulua Lokotui, 3 Kisi Pulu, 2 Aleki Lutui, 1 Soane Tonga'uiha. Replacements: 16 Ephraim Taukafa, 17 Alisona Taumalolo, 18 Halani Aulika, 19 Joseph Tuineau, 20 Samiu Vahafolau, 21 Samisoni Fisilau, 22 Alipate Fatafehi