France edge to opening victory
France defied a partisan East Hull crowd to beat Papua New Guinea 9-8 in their World Cup Group B opener at Craven Park.
Tackling some tough elements by the Humber and faced with a PNG side considered their own by the Hull fans, Richard Agar's men will hardly look back on this as their finest performance, but at least know they got the job done, however they did it.
Their luck came in the shape of the PNG full-back David Mead who missed two conversions and a 79th-minute penalty which meant that William Barthau's 64th-minute drop goal proved to be the match-winner. The fact that he felt moved to take it on was evidence of how formidable an obstacle PNG had been.
With their deep-rooted links to Hull KR because of former players Makali Aizue and in particular Stanley Gene, the Kumuls were afforded hero status from the crowd of 7,481 who for a long time had plenty to cheer about.
Thrilling Port Moresby winger Josiah Abavu had put them ahead early in the second half but France, with the relentless accuracy of stand-off Thomas Bosc and the opportunism of Barthau, found a way to get the points and banish memories of their surprise warm-up loss to America.
They will be under no illusions as to how their form needs to improve ahead of a clash with New Zealand on Friday, though, as they slipped off the pace drastically after taking an early lead.
Abavu had already been dumped in touch when they scored after six minutes with Bosc, one of 15 Catalan players in the matchday squad, picked up possession six yards out and turned a gap into a four-pointer, with his subsequent conversion giving France the best possible start.
PNG remained enthusiastic - perhaps too much so in the case of Israel Eliab who wiped out Barthau off the ball - but once they found some composure they started to impress.
Paul Aiton went close from dummy-half and they scored their first try of the tournament with 17 minutes gone, albeit in fortuitous circumstances.
Ray Thompson's pass to the right hit the oncoming Nene MacDonald in the face but, rather than swallow up the loose ball, Freddie Vaccari dropped it and Eliab was on hand to dot down.
Mead failed with the goal leaving France ahead, but PNG were on the front foot now and it took a fine tackle from full- back Clint Greenshields to dump Abavu in touch once more as he went for the corner.
France were clearly struggling but would have lead at the break were it not for a double-movement which took Theo Fages over the line, and that came home to roost three minutes after the break as PNG hit the front.
The enthusiastic celebrations which followed Thompson and Ase Boas' winning of the ball in a tackle were only bettered by those which occurred as Abavu took in Menzie Yere's pass to cash-in and overlap.
Mead failed with the goal once more, before MacDonald embarked on a fine run which was halted by Vaccari just before the line.
The failure to convert would come with a 60th-minute price as Bosc levelled the scores with a penalty, ignoring the boos of the fans who felt it was a negative move.
The cat calls continued when Barthau caught PNG napping to split the posts with a 40-yard drop goal with 15 minutes left - his first international point - but PNG still had another chance to win it when France were caught offside following a Barthau knock-on.
Despite failing twice, Mead stepped forward from 30 yards and dragged his kick left.