Vakatawa hat-trick crushes Samoa
MATCH REPORT: France's Fiji-born wing Virimi Vakatawa showcased all his sevens skills with a hat-trick of well-taken tries as Guy Noves' team ran out comfortable 52-8 winners over Samoa on Saturday.
Vakatawa, whose selection ahead of in-form Clermont rival and fellow Fijian Noa Nakaitaci had raised eyebrows, enjoyed a rampant match at Toulouse's Municipal Stadium.
The French forwards dominated their Samoan opponents from the off, handing the home team a perfect platform to play some ambitious rugby under no real pressure.
The result was a seven-try romp, with Yoann Huget, Gael Fickou, Charles Ollivon also crossing along with a late penalty try, Maxime Machenaud and later Baptiste Serin keeping the scoreboard ticking with their boots.
It was, however, Samoa who took an early lead after Vakatawa infringed on the floor, flyhalf Patrick Fa'apale sending over a penalty. France scrumhalf Machenaud responded almost immediately with his own penalty after a late tackle on skipper Guilhem Guirado.
Vakatawa then showed all his guile and power for his first try, evading Paul Williams' tackle and the covering No.8 Genesis Mamea-Lemalu to touch down for a try in the corner.
The Fiji-born wing, contracted to the French Sevens team with whom he played at the Rio Olympics, was a constant thorn in Samoa's side as Machenaud extended France's lead with a second penalty.
When centre Wesley Fofana stripped isolated Alafoti Fa'osiliva of the ball, a smart offload found Huget, who sprinted in for France's second try. Toulon's Ollivon was on hand to finish off an 80-metre move started by Fofana as France punished a lax Samoan defence.
Vakatawa was brought down but the ball was quickly recycled, with the in-form Ollivon on hand to slide over. Machenaud missed the two conversions but hit a third penalty to hand France a 26-3 half-time lead.
Samoa started the second period as they needed to, Reynold Lee-Lo skinning France's New Zealand-born prop Uini Atonio after a clever midfield move.
France then suffered a blow when flyhalf Francois Trinh-Duc suffered a broken forearm, but steadied nerves when replacement Fickou was played in for the home side's fourth try.
Vakatawa scorched in for his second after Fofana's line break and Scott Spedding's pass set the Fijian off down the touchline.
Camille Chat was denied a try by a fine covering tackle from Paul Williams but with Samoan heads down, English referee JP Doyle was left with no option than to hand France a penalty try after a series of scrums on the Pacific Islanders' line.
The icing on France's cake came when Vakatawa jinked in for his third try, Serin booting the two late conversions.
Tries: Vakatawa 3, Huget, Serin, Fickou, Penalty try
Cons: Machenaud 2, Serin 2
Pens: Machenaud 3
France: 15 Scott Spedding, 14 Yoann Huget, 13 Remi Lamerat, 12 Wesley Fofana, 11 Virimi Vakatawa, 10 Francois Trinh-Duc, 9 Maxime Machenaud, 8 Louis Picamoles, 7 Loann Goujon, 6 Kevin Gourdon, 5 Yoann Maestri, 4 Julien Le Devedec, 3 Uini Atonio, 2 Guilhem Guirado (captain), 1 Jefferson Poirot.
Replacements: 16 Camille Chat, 17 Cyril Baille, 18 Sebastien Vahaamahina, 19 Charles Ollivon, 20 Baptiste Serin, 21 Jean-Marc Doussain, 22 Gael Fickou, 23 Rabah Slimani.
Samoa: 15 Paul Williams, 14 Paul Perez, 13 George Pisi, 12 Reynold Lee-Lo, 11 David Lemi (captain), 10 Patrick Fa'apale, 9 Kahn Fotuali'i, 8 Jack Lam, 7 Genesis Mamea-Lemalu, 6 Alafoti Fa'oosiliva, 5 Teofilo Paulo, 4 Chris Vui, 3 Census Johnston, 2 Manu Leaiataua, 1 Sakaria Taulafo.
Replacements: 16 Elia Elia, 17 Logovi'i Mulipola, 18 Anthony Perenise, 19 Jeff Lepa, 20 Greg Foe, 21 Peleifofoga Cowley, 22 Alapati Leuila, 23 Ken Pisi.
Referee: JP Doyle (England)
Assistant referees: Craig Joubert (South Africa), Tom Foley (England)
TMO: Stefano Pennè (Italy)