France 41 Canada 18: Another comfortable margin on the scoreboard for France, but doubts hang over Philippe Saint-Andre’s side ahead of their final Pool D encounter with Ireland on Sunday week after a workmanlike defeat of Canada in stadium:mk last night.
As against Italy and Romania, the French huffed and puffed, this time in front of a stadium record crowd of 28,145, before superior fitness levels and skills finally began to generate some momentum and a dominant last quarter.
Three games in to this tournament, and four years into Saint-Andre’s tenure, it is still impossible to work out just what exactly is the team’s strategy. Unlike Joe Schmidt’s Ireland, there is little in the way of shape or tactics either.
That much was symbolised last night by the regular refusal of out-half Frederic Michalak to accept three easy points for penalties when the game was far from secured. It took until the 59th minutes, with Canada only six points adrift, for that penny to drop.
Canada were playing just five days after Italy were let slip through their fingers in Leeds, but a side containing six players from the Canadian leagues, five from the English second tier, and just four from Europe’s top tiers battled superbly yet again before fading away.
France were three-quarters of the way to the winning bonus point by the interval, leading 24-12, but each of those tries owed as much to basic, frustrating faults of their opponents as anything the favourites mustered.
Missed tackles paved the way for the first two from Wesley Fofana and Guilhem Guirado, after 5 and 24 minutes respectively, while a third was just millimetres away, in between when Fofana let a Michalak kick ahead kick back through his hands under the posts.
Michalak, who made the break for the first try and converted both times, also added a penalty to take him past Thierry Lacroix as the man with most World Cup points in the famous blue shirt. At 17-0 and only 25 minutes gone it looked ominous, but Canada’s retort was exemplary.
Centre Ciaran Hearn motored through to collect Nathan Hirayama’s kick-off, offloaded to the onrushing Phil McKenzie and, though they were finally halted metres from the France line, Canada worked the ball to the far corner for DTH van der Merwe to run over.
A second Canada try came three minutes later. Nanyak Dala, on for injured captain Tyler Ardron, barrelled down the French right and Canada maintained that speed when winning a penalty, switching the ball quickly through the hands until Kyle Gilmour had McKenzie on the overlap. The flanker butchered it, but the hooker Aaron Carpenter moled over.
Hirayama let fly with a loose clearing kick that was returned with interest by Scott Spedding and when Canada subsequently infringed, it paved the way for a penalty, a lineout, and a short burst over by Rabeh Slimani.
France’s 12-point half-time lead was halved by the concession of two terribly soft penalties, which Hirayama punished with six points within 15 minutes of the restart, but they were unable to push any further and found themselves swamped for the last quarter.
A second Michalak penalty took the lead out to nine again before Pascal Pape claimed the try bonus with 13 minutes to go and Remy Grosso claimed a five-pointer on his Test debut after Dala was sent to the sinbin by referee JP Doyle.
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, B Le Roux, D Chouly.
B Kayser for Guirado, V Debaty for Ben Arous and M Parra for Tillous-Borde (all 60); N Mas for Slimani (63); Y Nyanga for Le Roux and R Tales for Michalak (both 67); A Dumoulin for Bastareaud (70); F Quedraogo for Chouly (73).
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.
N Dala for Ardron (19); H Jones for Evans (37); D Sears-Duru for Buydens and R Barkwill for Thorpe (both 46); E Olmstead for Carpenter (62); C Trainor for Jones (64); G McRorie for Mack (66); A Tiedemann for Wooldridge (68).
JP Doyle (England).
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