France and Japan could not be separated as they played out a hard-fought 23-23 draw in an entertaining end-of-year Test in Nanterre on Saturday.
Japan can hold their heads high as they were competitive througohut and they eventually outscored their hosts three tries to two although it was the goal kicking of Francois Trinh-Duc that kept France in this match and he eventually finished with a 13-point haul courtesy of three penalties and two conversions.
The result finishes a nightmare run of results for les Bleus in 2017 and they are still winless since the Six Nations after losing four games to South Africa and one to New Zealand in their five previous fixtures.
The Brave Blossoms held the upper hand for large periods during the opening half and took the lead in the fifth minute courtesy of a Yu Tamura penalty.
France drew level in the 14th minute when Trinh-Duc slotted a penalty from 48 metres out after Michael Leitch was blown up for a ruck infringement.
The visitors’ enterprising style of play saw them crossing the advantage line at will and in the 23rd minute they were rewarded when Shota Horie crossed for the opening try after Kotaro Matsushima did well with a superb line break in the build-up.
France tried to strike back by showing some urgency on attack and in the 28th minute, debutant Gabriel Lacroix crossed the whitewash but his try was disallowed after televison replays revealed that he had a foot in touch after a brilliant tackle from Harumichi Tatekawa.
Two minutes later, the home side reduced the deficit to two points courtesy of another Trinh-Duc penalty. And on the stroke of half-time, they took the ball through several phases inside Japan’s half before Baptiste Serin offloaded to Rabah Slimani, who barged over from close quarters for a deserved try.
Trinh-Duc added the extras which meant les Bleus went into the break holding a 13-8 lead.
The Brave Blossoms were fastest out of the blocks in the second half and three mibnutes after the restart, Timothy Lafaele dotted down after a fine break from Keita Inagaki in the build up.
France fought back bravely and after stringing together several phases in Japan’s half, Trinh-Duc launched an inch-perfect crossfield kick which Lacroix gathered before crossing for his first Test try.
The host were dealt a setback on the hour-mark though when Lacroix was yellow carded for playing Tamura in the air.
Shortly afterwards, Tamura narrowed the gap to two points when he landed a three-pointer from the kicking tee but Trinh-Duc made it 23-18 to France when he slotted his third penalty in the 68th minute.
That set up an exciting finish and the Brave Blossoms were soon camped inside les Bleus‘ 22.
And after spending an extended period close to the home side’s tryline, Shintaro Ishihara caught the defence by surprise in the 74th minute when he barged through the middle of a ruck before diving over.
That drew the sides level but Tamura pushed his conversion attempt wide which meant the sides had to settle for the draw.
Tries: Slimani, Lacroix
Cons: Trinh-Duc 2
Pens: Trinh-Duc 3
Tries: Horie, Lafaele, Ishihara
Pens: Tamura 2
France: 15 Scott Spedding, 14 Gabriel Lacroix, 13 Damian Penaud, 12 Henry Chavancy, 11 Teddy Thomas, 10 Francois Trinh-Duc, 9 Baptiste Serin, 8 Louis Picamoles, 7 Sekou Macalou, 6 Judicaël Cancoriet, 5 Sébastien Vahaamahina, 4 Romain Taofifenua, 3 Rabah Slimani, 2 Guilhem Guirado (c), 1 Jefferson Poirot
Replacements: 16 Camille Chat, 17 Daniel Kotze, 18 Sebastien Taofifenua, 19 Paul Jedrasiak, 20 Fabien Sanconnie, 21 Antoine Dupont, 22 Mathieu Bastareaud, 23 Hugo Bonneval
Japan: 15 Kotaro Matsushima, 14 Lomano Lemeki, 13 Timothy Lafaele, 12 Harumichi Tatekawa, 11 Kenki Fukuoka, 10 Yu Tamura, 9 Yutaka Nagare, 8 Amanaki Mafi, 7 Michael Leitch (c), 6 Kazuki Himeno, 5 Shinya Makabe, 4 Wimpie van der Walt, 3 Jiwon Koo, 2 Shota Horie, 1 Keita Inagaki
Replacements: 16 Atsushi Sakate, 17 Shintaro Ishihara, 18 Asaeli Ai Valu, 19 Yoshitaka Tokunaga, 20 Fetuani Lautami, 21 Fumiaki Tanaka, 22 Sione Teaupa, 23 Yoshikazu Fujita
Referee: Luke Pearce (England)
Assistant referees: George Clancy (Ireland), Joy Neville (Ireland)
TMO: Sean Davey (England)