Canada make patchy France work hard for their bonus

Joe Schmidt will be encouraged by French vulnerability in cracking encounter

Wesley Fofana scores the first try for France during the Rugby World Cup Pool D encounter at stadium MK in Milton Keynes. Photograph:  Eddie Keogh/Reuters/Livepic

Wesley Fofana scores the first try for France during the Rugby World Cup Pool D encounter at stadium MK in Milton Keynes. Photograph: Eddie Keogh/Reuters/Livepic

 

France 41 Canada 18

Ireland coach Joe Schmidt will have appreciated the discomfort that Canada inflicted on their vaunted opponents for three quarters of this match before finally succumbing to injury and fatigue.

The Canadians were a joy to watch. The came, they saw and they gave it everything and this Rugby World Cup will be better for matches like this one. They also offered Ireland a blueprint: run at inside shoulders, preserve space, pass out of the tackle, offload where possible and get numbers to the breakdown.

Canada were also tactically astute in the way they used their forward runners, varying the carrier and often finding the path of least resistance in the collisions. France won this match because they had a superior set piece, a powerful lineout maul that yielded two of their five tries and in Freddie Michalak and Wesley Fofana, the two outstanding individual performers on the night.

But often that is what it came down to for the French, individual cameos of excellence. There was an improvement in France’s work ethic and vigour but under pressure there is still something hapless or directionless about their patterns.

They still lack fluency, particularly behind the scrum and can’t possibly expect to get the same return from the set piece against Ireland. Indeed the Canadian scrum, although for the most part dominated, demonstrated that France can be occasionally susceptible.

It proved a superbly entertaining opening 40 minutes with both sides playing with a brio that allowed the contest to sparkle. French coach Philippe Saint Andre demanded that his team play with greater concentration, intensity and accuracy and they complied with his wishes.

Captain Thierry Dusautoir set the tone with a thumping tackle in the first minute and for the most part France’s line speed was aggressive, but what they mightn’t have envisaged was the nuance and excellent game appreciation that Canada displayed.

FRance v Canada

Forwards ran at inside shoulders, preserving space and when possible they looked to offload in the tackle. The Canadian backs carried in two hands, looking inside and out, thereby forcing French players to make decisions in defence. Ciaran Hearn was particularly effective, so too DTH van der Merwe.

Schmidt will have picked up on how effective Canada’s first pod of three receivers was from rucks where scrumhalf Phil Mack varied between hitting the first and third players. The French tended to defend narrow with numbers and were left to scramble when the ball was whipped flat to the third receiver.

France’s tempo initially was impressive; they cleared out precisely and powerfully at rucks and brought venom to the collisions. Quick ruck ball allowed Michalak to demonstrate the positive attributes of his game, shimmying past tacklers, offloading with one hand and one delicious chip that would have led to a second try of the half for Fofana but for a capricious bounce a metre short of the line.

The French deserved their 17-0 lead, tries from Fofana and hooker Guilhem Guirado with Michalak tagging on a brace of conversions and a penalty. However much to the delight of the crowd, Canada struck back in brilliant fashion, Hearn winning a superb re-start that preempted a try for Van der Merwe.

Then, within four minutes, hooker Aaron Carpenter burrowed over, thereby saving the blushes of his team-mate and flanker Kyle Gilmour, who should have given wing Phil MacKenzie a simple run in. Nathan Hirayama kicked the first conversion but missed the second to make it 17-12.

Smarting, the French responded just before the interval with a try from tighthead prop Rabah Slimani following a well-worked driven maul from a lineout. Michalak converted but straight after the resumption a Hirayama penalty reduced the deficit to 24-15, and then another on 54 minutes made it a six-point game. It was impossible not to admire the Canucks’ moxie, particularly the vision that their fizzing scrumhalf Mack brought to the game.

France were blowing, conceding turnovers at the breakdown, and worse penalties, as they struggled to get there in numbers but unfortunately Canada – one outstanding goal-line stand aside – began to feel the pace and not even being regularly restocked from the bench could replenish energy levels.

Michalak kicked a penalty and his last act was a conversion as France bullied their way over from another lineout maul, Pascal Pape dotting down. Remy Grosso’s try on debut and a beautifully struck touchline conversion by Morgan Parra against a 14-man Canada at this point was bordering on the heartless.

SCORING SEQUENCE – 3 mins: Fofana try, Michalak conversion, 7-0; 13: Michalak penalty, 10-0; 28: Guirado try, Michalak conversion, 17-0; 30: DTH van der Merwe try, Hirayama conversion, 17-7; 34: Carpenter try, 17-12; 37: Slimani try, Michalak conversion, 24-12. Half-time 24-12. 41: Hirayama penalty, 24-15; 54: Hirayama penalty, 24-18; 58: Michalak penalty, 27-18; 66: Pape try, Michalak conversion, 34-18; Grosso try, Parra conversion, 41-18.

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: V Debaty for Ben Arous (59 mins); B Kayser for Guirado (59 mins); M Parra for Tillous-Borde (59 mins); N Mas for Slimani (62 mins); Y Nyanga for Le Roux (68 mins); R Tales for Michalak (68 mins); A Dumoulin for Bastareaud (68 mins); F Quedroago for Chouly (72 mins).

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: N Dala for Ardron (18 mins); H Jones for Evans (37 mins); D Sears-Duru for Buydens (47 mins); R Barkwill for Thorpe (47 mins); E Olmstead for Carpenter (61 mins); C Trainor for Jones (63 mins); G McRorie for Mack (65 mins); Jones for MacKenzie (67 mins); A Tiedemann for Wooldridge (67 mins). Yellow card: N Dala (Canada) 71 mins.

Referee: JP Doyle (England).

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