Les Bleus sent out an entirely new team from the first-choice side that brushed past New Zealand last Friday.
Boss Fabien Galthie wanted to make a statement of intent to force other teams to sit up and marvel at France’s strength in depth. Instead, any of their rivals watching would have seen those wholesale changes as part of the reason for such a niggly performance.
France’s players were desperate to put on a show against their world No17 opponents, but a string of errors and a staccato rhythm left France frustrated, even bickering in breaks of play.
Uruguay pushed the hosts all the way, even to within one point — 13-12 — at one time. France’s designs on winning this World Cup did not include tight matches against minnows, but Pierre Bourgarit admitted Les Bleus had endured a tough night.
“It was complicated, we had trouble getting our game going,” said the hooker. “It was frustrating. We didn’t want to play the rugby we did last night.
“It generated frustration. We felt dominant in the scrum, but we weren’t always rewarded. Uruguay gave us a hard time in the rucks.
“It happens that we get into a spat, but it’s never too bad. It’s part of the sport.
“We’ve won our two pool matches. Our ambition is to finish top of the pool. We hope to give a better account of ourselves in seven days’ time.”
Nicolas Freitas crossed for a well-worked Uruguay try that stunned France via a smart crossfield kick. Baltazar Amaya then dragged Uruguay to within a point of France, cutting France’s advantage after Antoine Hastoy’s try and two Melvyn Jaminet penalties.
Peato Mauvaka and Louis Bielle-Biarrey crossed late on to seal the win for France, who were happy with the result but not the performance.
“We struggled to make good use of our ruck,” added Bourgarit. “Obviously, without fast ball, it’s harder to set up your game, and Uruguay were excellent.
“They came here to put on a good show. It was their opening match. We should congratulate them, they knew how to make things difficult for us.
“Things didn’t work out as we would have liked and that led to frustration. We’re going to analyse what went wrong so we can be better in our next games.”
France can roll onto a Pool A clash with Namibia that they should win with something to spare, whatever their level of performance.
Head coach Galthie was left impressed with Uruguay’s showing, and admitted the sport needs to help lesser nations set up more matches against top teams.
“If we want rugby to develop, a team like Uruguay needs to play more matches against the best,” he said. “This is a team that wants to take on the leading nations, but the only competition that allows that for them is the World Cup. They can be an emerging nation like Japan or Georgia, but they need to play the best teams more often for that to happen.”
France’s patchy performance ultimately means little in the wider tournament context, especially having fielded a majority second-choice lineup.
“What’s important is winning, I told the players, ‘Let’s win the match’,” added Galthie. “We were hampered by Uruguay, who carried out their plan well, but in the end we won. We can be satisfied. If there’s any frustration, it’s more among the players. We want them to enjoy themselves, to be happy
“They’re probably frustrated, but we must respect our opponent and we are very glad to have won this match.
“A World Cup is a long-term adventure, each match is a challenge, and the group games are very important. A match like this strengthens the team, making it stronger and better for what is to come.”