LE HAVRE, France -- France ended a four-match losing streak by defeating Tonga 38-18, with both sides reduced to 14 men soon after halftime on Saturday.
France always had the match in hand with four tries to two, however Tonga humbled the home defence frequently with all the breaks it made but couldn't make any links to support.
Tonga prop Alisona Taumalolo and France lock Yoann Maestri were ejected in the 41st minute for trading punches. It hardly mattered as France was in command at 21-6.
"We made small mistakes but the most important thing is to regain confidence with a victory," France fullback Brice Dulin said. "Maybe we got carried away at times. We wanted so much to do well and score tries. We were sometimes a bit messy, but that will boost our morale."
After an early penalty, winger Sofiane Guitoune, the Top 14's top try-scorer making his test debut, collected a high ball from Morgan Parra to score an unconverted try in the right corner in the fifth minute.
Parra punished more Tonga indiscipline with penalties in the 17th and the 29th for 14-0.
The visitors came close to a try in the 22nd, but flanker Sione Kalamafoni ignored two free teammates to his right and lost possession.
France started feeling Tonga's physical impact at the breakdown. Flanker Thierry Dusautoir failed to roll away after a tackle and Fangatapu Apikotoa landed a penalty from 45 metres in the 31st. The Tonga flyhalf capitalized on a Frenchman offside in the 37th to cut the deficit to 14-6.
"We were a bit on the backfoot in the first half," Dusautoir said. "We didn't manage to be well organized. They are very strong and we missed a lot of first tackles."
On the stroke of halftime, France lock Sebastien Vahaamahina was stopped five meters from the line. Tonga lost its nerve as scrumhalf Taniela Moa was sent to the sin-bin for elbowing hooker Dimitri Szarzewski. No. 8 Damien Chouly relied on France's powerful scrum to score a converted try for 21-6.
The break did not help to cool tempers. Seconds after the restart, Maestri and Taumalolo were red-carded for trading head punches. Maestri, teary-eyed, had words with Taumalolo as he walked off.
Guitoune sent Dulin in for another converted try but despite the growing deficit, Tonga kept fighting and created space with a multi-phase buildup that stretched the France defence. A big miss-out pass freed winger Fetu'u Vainikolo to slide over in the left corner.
Vainikolo conceded the next penalty which Parra goaled, then another rolling maul drove in replacement Benjamin Kayser to secure France's first win after four defeats to New Zealand.
In the last minute, Vainikolo escaped a tackle from a cramping Guitoune to smack the left corner flag as he touched down for his ninth career try.
France faces South Africa next Saturday, while Tonga, after a second straight loss in Europe, visits Wales on Friday.