France bring out big guns as they go in search of rhythm

Thierry Dusautoir insists Canada game is not just ‘dress rehearsal’ for Ireland match

 Wesley Fofana  runs with a ball next to captain Thierry Dusautoir during a France training session at Stadium MK in Milton Keynes. Photograph: Getty

Wesley Fofana runs with a ball next to captain Thierry Dusautoir during a France training session at Stadium MK in Milton Keynes. Photograph: Getty


POOL D: France v Canada, Milton Keynes, 8.0 (Live on TV3, ITV)

French coach Philippe Saint-André has put out the nucleus of the team that will face Ireland in 10 days’ time for their penultimate Pool D match and this doesn’t bode well for Canada, even allowing for their epic performance in defeat to Italy.

Only wings Noa Nakaitaci and Sofiane Guitone – following Yoann Huget’s tournament-ending injury – and number eight Louis Picamoles are absent in Milton Keynes from what looks to be France’s strongest team.

The bare statistics don’t look too chipper from a Canucks’ perspective. France have scored 46-50 points in each of the last three tests between the sides, have scored four tries or more in the last five tests against Canada and on the three occasions they have previously met at a World Cup, France have won them all.

Canada make seven changes for this match following a brilliant effort against Italy but the only imponderable is the final scoreline. What Saint Andre will demand – after his half-time outburst caught on camera during the Romania match it seems an apt word – is that the team start the game with more intensity and focus.

Second Captains

Bruised bodies

This, after all, is France’s final outing before they play Ireland on Sunday week in Cardiff, a 10-day hiatus, a gap that while good to soothe bruised bodies might be a tad too much down-time. It’s impossible to ape match conditions in training and that extended rest period won’t be beneficial.


French captain Thierry Dusautoir was a model of diplomacy and decorum when he observed: “It would be a huge mistake to consider this game as a dress rehearsal for the match against Ireland. Canada showed against Italy how good they are. So we’ll have to go out on the field not having the next game in mind. We’ll have to make sure we focus on the things to improve from the last game.”

The latter sentiment is perhaps the most apposite. France will concentrate exclusively on the performance, hoping to sharpen and refine units that have fired only sporadically in their two matches to date.

While it’s reasonable to acknowledge the fitful nature of those performances there were snippets of the individual and collective excellence that France can muster.

If they stop playing by rote and return to a heads-up expression of the core skills then Canada could be in for a long night. A major problem for the Canadians is that they don’t compete on opposition lineout ball and if the French crank up the maul it could be very punitive for their opponents.

Collective harmony

Saint-André will be looking for collective harmony in patterns and any individual that falls short will jeopardise his chances of togging out on Sunday week. He wants his team bristling with intent and laying down a marker, something they have failed to do in the tournament so far. The French coach will hope for concentration, rhythm, intensity, accuracy and a freedom of movement that will infuse confidence.

Remy Grosso gets his opportunity on the right wing and as his teammate and fullback Scott Spedding observed: “I don’t know if you watched the Top 14 last season but Remy was pretty much the best wing. He had a strong finish to the season and was one of the key players in the Top 14. He is really good, really strong, very hard. He will be up for the challenge.”

France will recoup maximum points from this game but what most people will judge them on is whether they bring style to the substance. FRANCE: S Spedding; R Grosso, M Bastareaud, W Fofana, B Dulin; F Michalak, S Tillous-Borde; E Ben Arous, G Guirado, R Slimani; P Pape, Y Maestri; T Dusautoir (capt), B Le Roux, D Chouly. Replacements: B Kayser, V Debaty, N Mas, Y Nyanga, F Quedraogo, M Parra, R Tales, A Dumoulin. CANADA: M Evans; P Mackenzie, C Hearn, N Blevins, DTH van der Merwe; N Hirayama, P Mack; H Buydens, A Carpenter, D Wooldridge; B Beukeboom, J Cudmore; K Gilmour, R Thorpe, T Ardron (capt). Replacements: R Barkwill, D Sears-Duru, A Tiedemann, E Olmstead, N Dala, G McRorie, H Jones, C Trainor. Referee: JP Doyle (England).