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WORLD CUP

Kiwis demolish France in rugby league World Cup

New Zealand, guided superbly by half-back Shaun Johnson, out-muscled France 48-0 on Friday for their second Pool B victory to keep the defence of their World Cup title firmly on track.

Kiwis demolish France in rugby league World Cup
Photo: Bertrand Langlois/AFP

Johnson filled the giant boots vacated by union-bound Benji Marshall with aplomb, notching up a brace of tries in a personal tally of 24 points and also kicking out of hand to great effect after the power of his tough-tackling pack handed him the field territory he needed.

New Zealand coach Stephen Kearney hailed his team's defence, which had come in for some criticism in his team's opening pool victory over Samoa.

"It was an area we highlighted against Samoa that needed improvement," Kearney said. "I thought the lads did really, really good in that area tonight — the French side threw everything at us. I thought it was a pretty solid performance right through the whole match."

France coach Richard Agar was left ruing the too-big deficit in the scoreline, blaming a lack of smartness, notably in attack.

"I want to applaud my players for doing the best under fire," the Englishman said.

"But I'm disappointed we didn't keep the scoreline more competitive."

Attack "had the biggest room for improvement", he said, calling for "more intelligent" decision-making in their next pool game against Samoa. New Zealand will go close to winning the competition," he added.

Kearney made wholesale changes from the side that beat Samoa 42-24 last weekend, including opting to rest code-swap star Sonny Bill Williams.

But that did not deter a reshuffled New Zealand side up against a France team that pipped Papua New Guinea 9-8 in last weekend's opener, but which looked terribly short of attacking options despite a valiant defensive display in Avignon.

The Kiwis, dominant throughout, took under four minutes to get on the scoreboard and silence the raucous 17,000-capacity crowd, centre Krisnan Inu latching on to a flat Kieran Foran cross-field kick to twist over the line.

Johnson hit the extras, his first of his eight successful conversions.

Despite a disallowed Frank Pritchard try, and repeated charges from prop Ben Matulino and captain Simon Mannering in midfield, France held their own for a couple of Kiwi attacking sets, proving a much sterner test than the Samoans had in the first-half.

When France's teenage Salford half-back Theo Fages darted through, there was a sniff of the line, but the black defensive curtain came down.

A second cross-kick to the left wing then caused havoc, Bryson Goodwin outleaping the French defenders to score, and Frank-Paul Nu'uausala crashed over for the Kiwis' third try from a short Johnson pass to make it 18-0 at half-time.

The increasingly influential Johnson scored a converted brace early in the second period, both times the recipient of smart offloads from darting dummy-half Isaac Luke.

Replacement prop Greg Eastwood did well to ground the ball for the Kiwis' sixth try, with four Frenchmen hanging off him.

French winger Cyril Stacul brought the crowd to their feet when he broke after a loose Kiwi pass, but full-back Kevin Locke was on hand with a try-scoring tackle.

Instead Nu'uausala went over for his second with the French defence wilting despite the best efforts of props Olivier Elima and Sydney Rooster-bound Remi Casty.

Locke then nailed Fages after the Salford half-back broke free, but there was to be no late consolation try for the French in the resulting action after the video referee ruled out Stacul's effort in the corner.

Winger Roger Tuivasa-Scheck had the last laugh for the Kiwis, going over in the corner, Johnson fittingly having the final word with a tricky conversion for an exemplary showing.

The Kiwis wrap up their Pool B campaign against Papua New Guinea in Leeds on November 8th, while the French host Samoa in Perpignan two days later with everything still to play for given that three of the four teams in the pool advance to the quarter-finals.

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FOOTBALL

France plans to keep growing women’s game after World Cup disappointment

France faces the challenge of continuing to develop women's football after the bitter disappointment of elimination from the World Cup by the United States.

France plans to keep growing women's game after World Cup disappointment
France players after the defeat against USA. Photo: AFP

“Back to Earth” was how sports daily L'Equipe put it after the host nation lost 2-1 to the holders in a quarter-final played out before a feverish crowd in Paris.

L'Equipe talked of “the disappointment of a shattered adventure” because coach Corinne Diacre's team had dreamt of emulating the men, World Cup winners in Russia last year and also winners as hosts in 1998.

The team had been desperate to make it to Lyon, where the semi-finals and final will be played and where seven of those who featured for France on Friday play their club football for Europe's top side.

Instead, France find themselves out of a fifth straight major tournament in the quarter-finals. To rub salt into the wounds, Friday's defeat had the knock-on effect of denying them a place at next year's Olympics.

Diacre had been set the objective of reaching the final, which always looked a daunting challenge once the draw raised the likelihood of an early meeting with the USA.

Amid the dejection on Friday, Diacre stated her wish to continue, and on Saturday French Football Federation (FFF) President Noel Le Graet confirmed she would stay.

“She will be in charge until the end of her contract, if not longer,” Le Graet told AFP.

That means until Euro 2021 in England at least, and the aim in France is to keep developing the women's game to give them a chance of one day going all the way.

The FFF hope the number of registered female players will reach 200,000 next year, an increase of almost 10 percent from present figures, but far from the two million registered male players.

They have also promised to invest 15 million euros into a post-World Cup “legacy” fund.

The interest in the women's game is there, as shown by television audiences during the World Cup, with 11.8 million watching the USA game on terrestrial TV.

However, translating that to an increased following in the women's domestic league will be a bigger challenge.

France games have drawn sell-out crowds at the World Cup, but in general attendances in domestic competition are modest at best, even if almost 26,000 saw powerhouses Lyon beat closest rivals Paris Saint-Germain earlier this year.

“We cannot go from so much enthusiasm now to league matches on poor pitches with only 120 fans,” said Le Graet. “We all need to make an effort and we will.”

Matches are televised, but like elsewhere income remains light years from rights deals in the men's game — a new sponsorship contract for the 12-club top flight with chemicals company Arkema is worth one million euros per season for three years.

Average salaries are reportedly around 3,500 euros per month, although stars like Amandine Henry and Wendie Renard are believed to earn almost 10 times that at Lyon, who have won the Champions League in the last four years. Again, those sums are dwarfed by the wages often on offer to the men.

“We need to keep putting money in, keep professionalising, because other countries are doing it and maybe that's why they are ahead of us,” warned Lyon and France forward Eugenie Le Sommer.

“We have a good league but unfortunately not every team is professional.

“There are countries who are ahead of us and we must catch up. Even Spain are putting lots of money in and we need to make sure we are not left behind.”

READ ALSO: France coach laments 'failure' as hosts knocked out of World Cup

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