Fukuoka - USA coach Gary Gold hailed his players for going "toe-to-toe" with France on Wednesday after they threatened an upset late in the Pool C game in Fukuoka.

The heavy underdogs kept France scoreless for most of the second half and drew within three points before three late French tries secured a 33-9 win.

"I'm incredibly proud of this group of players. I feel we did go toe-to-toe," said Gold. "We made some mistakes, and when you play against a team of the French calibre, when you make mistakes, they'll make you pay."

"We worked so incredibly hard for this today and I'm a bit sad we didn't get a try or more on the scoreboard but yeah, just a very, very good performance and really positive for the way forward," added Gold.

The USA's unexpectedly strong showing comes after Japan stunned Ireland, ranked world number one at the start of the tournament, and Uruguay upset establish Pacific side Fiji.

"The gap is definitely closing quite a lot. I think if you look back a couple of World Cups ago, there were 70-80 point drubbings with Tier One versus Tier Two and now we're giving ourselves a chance with 65 minutes," said Gold.

"We just can't make mistakes against teams of this calibre. And we're learning from that. But I think the gap is slowly but surely closing."

It was quite a change from his comments after the USA lost 45-7 to England.

Lambasting a "pretty awful performance" on that occasion, he called on his team to improve "every aspect of our game" in one of the harshest attacks on a team seen at this Rugby World Cup.