France closed in on a Rugby World Cup quarter-finals spot after scoring five tries in a 41-18 win against Canada in their Pool D match on Thursday.
Veteran lock Pascal Pape scored the fourth try to earn a bonus point which is likely to be enough for France, the losing finalist in 2011, to reach the last eight.
France now faces Ireland in a game that is expected to determine top spot in Pool D, with the winner likely to avoid a showdown with the All Blacks in the quarter-finals. The French lead the group with 14 points from three games, four points clear of Ireland and 10 ahead of Italy.
“It will be a different game, a different story,” against Ireland, France coach Philippe Saint-André said. “The guys are looking forward and they will be ready.”
Captain Thierry Dusautoir is already relishing facing the Irish.
“We’re here to test ourselves against the best,” he said. “Their scrum is very strong, they tackle well and their backs find space.”
Despite the fulltime score against Canada, it was a somewhat patchy performance from France and the only safe bet was the accurate kicking of Frédéric Michalak.
The 32-year-old flyhalf converted the first four tries and added two penalties on his way to becoming his country’s all-time World Cup scorer with 136 points. He made his World Cup debut in 2003.
“A lot of people were surprised why I picked him,” Saint-André said. “Against Italy and today he showed that he’s a class player.”
Michalak was replaced near the end by Morgan Parra, who helped to set up winger Remy Grosso for a try on his test debut as Canada played the last 10 minutes with 14 players after Nanyak Dala was sin-binned.
In the four years between the 2011 Rugby World Cup and this one, Canada played three Tier One teams. In the first 12 days of the tournament, they played three more.
Coach Kieran Crowley spoke with an air of dejection following the defeat to France.
Not because of the way his side played, he was delighted about that, but rather because of the brutally tight schedule he has to contend with. When the Canadian players line up against Romania next Tuesday in Leicester, it will be their fourth and last pool game in just 17 days.
The strain is starting to show, with Crowley bemoaning his growing injury list.
“When I look at the dressing room, there are four or five injuries. We’ll have three games in 11 days, and you wouldn’t ask Ireland to do it, and you wouldn’t ask France to do it,” Crowley said. “It’s a real challenge for the coaches, but we have to deal with it.”
The walking wounded include captain Tyler Ardron, who injured his knee against the French, and hooker Aaron Carpenter – scorer of Canada’s second try – who hurt his leg.
Looking ahead to the Romania game, he sounded like he was only half-joking when he said, “There might be a plane-load of players coming over from Canada, we’ll see.”
He already had to replace one player before this game. After inside centre Connor Braid broke his jaw and was concussed against Italy, sevens player Patrick Parfrey was drafted in.
Canada has impressed in spells at this tournament. It led by 10 points at one stage against the Italians last Saturday, before losing that match 23-18.
Against the French at Milton Keynes, Crowley’s side showed courage and panache to rally from 17-0 down with two quick-fire first-half tries that caught the French off guard. They moved to within six points of Saint-André’s side early in the second half.
“We have progressed massively in the backs, we have some massively talented backs,” Crowley said. “One thing we’ve tried to do is try to play rugby. Sometimes it gets us into a bit of trouble because we don’t have the experience at crucial times. We have traditional-type players, and we just need to find that X-factor sometimes.”
Saint-André, an elusive winger during a 69-test career for France, praised Canada’s inventiveness and audacity.
“Canada was sharp, quick, and strong, very skillful,” he said. “They have a sevens culture that allows them to take risks. They are improving a lot.”Report Typo/Error