Twenty-four points in 13 minutes late in the second half helped France to a 47-21 win over Japan in their opening World Cup match at the North Harbour Stadium in Albany on Saturday.
The Japanese, living up to their moniker as the 'Brave Blossoms', managed to stay in touch - trailing just 21-25 with 13 minutes left on the clock.
However, a Dimitri Yachvili penalty - to go with tries by Lionel Nallet, Pascal Papé and Morgan Parra - in the next 10 minutes saw the French secure the bonus-point win.
But before that they were rattled by an inspired performance from flyhalf James Arlidge - who scored a Japan World Cup record with his 21 points (including two tries) - that rocked Les Bleus to their core.
Before that late blitz France were anything but their fourth ranking as the eager Japanese threw everything at them.
France finished with a bonus point from their six tries to two victory, but Japan's New Zealand-born flyhalf James Arlidge was the undoubted man-of-the-match.
The French looked rattled at times against the inspired Japanese, who were chasing only their second World Cup victory and raises questions about Les Bleus' chances of progressing deep into the tournament.
France are coming off a deflating last 12 months - hitting rock bottom with a record 16-59 defeat at home to Australia in November and a first-ever loss to Italy in the Six Nations.
France were 1987 and 1999 World Cup runners-up, but they will have to topple the top-ranked All Blacks in their pool if they are to avoid a likely quarterfinal with England, winners of this year's Six Nations.
Les Bleus went over in the fifth minute through lock Julien Pierre.
Wing Maxime Medard skipped out of a tackle with Raphael Lakafia and Dimitri Yachvili keeping the ball alive before Pierre plunged over for Yachvilli to add the extras.
Flyhalf Francois Trinh-Duc scored a 60 metres intercept try against the run of play off wayward Arlidge pass for the French to storm to a 14-0 lead after 12 minutes.
Arlidge kicked the Brave Blossoms' first points with an 18th-minute penalty but the bigger French continued to dominate.
Yachvili kicked two penalties before Japan enjoyed some luck to score through Arlidge.
From a line-out close to the French line Arlidge's grubber bounced off Trinh-Duc into the flyhalf's arms to an unopposed try and slice France's lead to 20-8 after 30 minutes.
But Les Bleus hit back quickly with Cedric Heymans' smart pass setting up a try for right wing Vincent Clerc to lead 25-11 at half-time.
French forwards Imanol Harinordoquy and Nallet were held up over the try-line by a desperate Japanese defence early in the second half.
Arlidge embarrassed the French with a determined solo try, bursting through three weak tackles to score and convert for the Blossoms to trail by a converted try with 30 minutes left with the crowd roaring them on.
Japan again stormed the French line and Arlidge edged them to within four points with his third penalty on 58 minutes.
The French clinched victory when Nallet scored followed by further tries from Pape and Parra to claim the bonus point and saved a monumental embarrassment.
Man of the match: There were some impressive performance from the French - strong runs in midfield by Aurelien Rougerie and Fabrice Estebanez at times, and Dimitri Yachvili's claming influence. However, the real hero of the day were in Japan's red - flyhalf James Arlidge, who sparked Japan in the second half and scored all their points.
Moment of the match: Also go to Japan. James Arlidge's rather fortuitous try in the 30th minute, when he tried a grubber and it bounced back off a Frenchman into his hands for the score.
Villain of the match: The closest to anything villainous was the way the French drifted in and out of the game, going to sleep for long periods in the second half.
Tries: Pierre, Trinh-Duc, Clerc, Nallet, Papé, Parra
Cons: Yachvili 4
Pens: Yachvili 3
Tries: Arlidge 2
Pens: Arlidge 3
France: 15 Cedric Heymans, 14 Vincent Clerc, 13 Aurelien Rougerie, 12 Fabrice Estebanez, 11 Maxime Médard, 10 Francois Trinh-Duc, 9 Dimitri Yachvili, 8 Raphael Lakafia, 7 Imanol Harinordoquy, 6 Thierry Dusautoir (captain), 5 Lionel Nallet, 4 Julien Pierre, 3 Nicolas Mas, 2 William Servat, 1 Fabien Barcella.
Replacements: 16 Dimitri Szarzewski, 17 Jean-Baptiste Poux, 18 Julien Bonnaire, 19 Pascal Papé, 20 Morgan Parra, 21 David Skrela, 22 David Marty.
Japan: 15 Shaun Webb, 14 Kosuke Endo, 13 Koji Taira, 12 Ryan Nicholas, 11 Hirotoki Onozawa, 10 James Arlidge, 9 Fumiaki Tanaka, 8 Ryukoliniasi Holani, 7 Michael Leitch, 6 Takashi Kikutani (captain), 5 Toshizumi Kitagawa, 4 Luke Thompson, 3 Kensuke Hatakeyama, 2 Shota Horie, 1 Hisateru Hirashima.
Replacements: 16 Yusuke Aoki, 17 Nozomu Fujita, 18 Hitoshi Ono, 19 Itaru Taniguchi, 20 Atsushi Hiwasa, 21 Murray Williams, 22 Alisi Tupuailai.
Referee: Steve Walsh (Australia)
Assistant referees: Alain Rolland (Ireland)), Stuart Terheege (England)
TMO: Giulio De Santis (Italy)
AFP & rugby365.com
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