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France's Antoine Dupont. Picture: GONZALO FUENTES/REUTERS
France's Antoine Dupont. Picture: GONZALO FUENTES/REUTERS

A pall has descended over France. The hosts will have to watch the rest of the Rugby World Cup from the sidelines after the Springboks dumped them from the tournament in a nail-biting 29-28 defeat for Les Bleus on Sunday.

The Boks denied France the opportunity to advance to the semifinals and an opportunity to come to grips with old foes England in the latest instalment of Le Crunch on Saturday.

They would have fancied their chances of beating England, who they thumped 53-10 at Twickenham in the Six Nations earlier this year. They would also have relished meeting New Zealand, whom they beat in the tournament opener, in the final.

The French did not go quietly into the night after their quarterfinal exit, however, and lamented the performance of referee Ben O’Keefe and his fellow Kiwi match officials.

“What did you think from the outside? It’s hard to say because there’s a lot of disappointment and frustration.

“We want to see the images again — which will give us even more disappointment and even more frustration — but I think some clear and obvious things weren’t whistled,” said captain Antoine Dupont.

“At crucial moments, we could have had a penalty. When you’ve gone forward 60m and you’re slowed down in the rucks, it’s pretty easy to whistle. I don't want to sound bitter, moaning about the refereeing because we lost the match, but I’m not sure the refereeing was up to the challenge.

“That doesn’t take anything away from the South Africans’ great game, who got on top of us at the breakdown. They played a great game.”

Their calm and measured head coach Fabien Galthié was also asked to contribute to the post-match debate.

“He’s [O’Keeffe] not on his own. The TMO and the referees have time to review the images like us and have the right to officiate. I ask my players to be brave at times like this because I understand their frustration. But I won’t comment on it personally,” Galthié said.

“I’d rather congratulate them [the players]. We’ve worked hard with them and we’ll continue to work with them. I understand the players’ position, because there are a lot of emotions that are not easy to digest.

“But above all, congratulations to SA and their staff. Respect and fair play — may they continue on their way for as long as possible.”

France were at times frustrated at the breakdown and they at times agitated for stronger sanction against the Springboks in a match of thunderous collisions.

“I thought Ben was good on the day,” said Bok coach Jacques Nienaber.

“You would say we won and that’s why I'm saying that. We tried to take the referee out of the game — we scored four tries, and missed one or two, and one from the tee.

“We managed it well. I thought his communication on the day was excellent in terms of the decisions he made.”

Bok captain Siya Kolisi did not share Dupont’s stark view of the match officials.

“From our side, all we can do is play rugby. We can’t control the decisions the ref makes. We will have to look at the game but the communications with him and the calls he made were fair.

“I would never discredit the referee. Obviously Antoine has his own opinion.

“It was an amazing game, it was tough, physically it flowed. The way the two teams played outshines everything else. It was an amazing atmosphere.

“The French team have been building for four years so we knew it would take something special for us to win this game.”

Kolisi praised Dupont for coming back into the tournament in the face of adversity. Dupont suffered a cheekbone fracture against Namibia.

“The people of France can be proud of their team. It was a one-point game. It was going to take something special for us to win. The French team and Antoine can hold their heads up high.”

France though believed this was their time. Never have they assembled a team for the World Cup as well prepared as this one.

French President Emmanuel Macron commiserated with the players in the change room afterwards.

They will take some consoling. France went to extraordinary lengths to host this World Cup.


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