France won a hugely entertaining encounter at a packed out Milton Keynes to set up a winner takes all clash with Ireland a week Sunday
France overcame stern resistance from a pumped-up Canada side to run out fairly comfortable 41-18 winners, although after 58 minutes the gaps had been down to six points, when Nathan Hirayama had slotted two penalties after the break. In the first-half, Freddie Michalak had been the inspiration, first setting Wesley Fofana off for France’s first try and his later break led to Guilhem Guirado crashing over. After the break, two quick-fire tries from Aaron Carpenter and DTH Van der Merwe whipped up the crowd, but scores from Remi Grosso and Pascale Pape nullified Canada’s creditable resistance.
Milton Keynes is hardly renowned as a rugby stronghold, yet the pubs were rammed with French and Canadian supporters before the game, taking in the hospitality and inside the stadium it was packed to the rafters with vocal fans. You have to hand it to the event organisers, any fears of empty, soulless football stadiums have proved wide of the mark. Prince Harry and Jason Leonard even turned up with big smiles on the faces. Hat tip all…
‘Super’ Freddie Michalak
You know that with Freddie, you’re always milliseconds away from something outrageously good or bad, but the 2015 vintage of La Michalak has been relatively sensible (we’ll pretend we didn’t see the ‘look no eyes’ pass he threw in the second half). He opened up the Canuck defense as early as the third minute to put Wesley Fofana away for a spectacular diving try. Again on 24 minutes another shimmy, dart and skip through defence ended with unlucky bounce just stopping Fofana from scoring one of the tries of the tournament. Fourteen points from the boot, too. Stop it, Fred. You’re spoiling us.
He may lack the gliding elegance of some French full-backs of yore but in this tournament, Spedding has shown a positive attitude to run from deep and makes things happen. His handling under the high-ball has been water-tight, his siege-gun boot a useful weapon to clear French lines and he can also chip in with 50m+ penalties. He’s even forced Brice Dulin out on the wing. Bravo, Scott!
DTH Van der Merwe
Canada’s refreshing positivity was encompassed by Canada’s now record World Cup try-scorer DTH Van der Merwe, to make it three tries in three games. He is a hugely positive player, who is always looking to gain ground, probe and prod defences looking for an opening. His new home for next year, the Scarlets, will be pretty happy with their acquisition, while Glasgow Warriors fans will be wondering why he left a title winning team. One of the stars of the tournament.
Canada’s inability to defend driving mauls
If you’re being very harsh, you’d say that the Canucks inability to defend France’s driving maul was their undoing. Twice the French were able to rumble over in the first, leaving Canada powerless to stop them and Pascale Pape was able to cross late on in similar circumstances. France attacked Canada at the set-piece and usually made headway. Work to do in that area.
France leaving points out on the field
There were a few occasions in the second-half where some more unselfish play would have given France a healthier sheen on the scoreboard. A prime example was Mathieu Bastareaud who chose to try and power through when he had Brice Dulin outside him for an easy score. Such profilgacy will cost them against Ireland.
Milton Keynes roundabouts
Okay, I’m clutching at straws but I’m always brought out in a cold sweat whenever I approach Milton Keynes. If it wasn’t for my trusty sat-nav I would still be driving round in circles while you’re reading this report. I’m analogue to MK’s digital. The town planners have defeated me. Thankfully I made it to the stadium in the end. Apart from that, it was a brilliant evening.
France carried 518 metres compared to Canada’s 387 metres
France had six line-breaks to Canada’s three, while France beat 22 defenders to Canada’s 20
Scott Spedding carried the ball furthest, with 100 metres, followed by DTH Van der Merwe with 80. Remy Gross was third with 77
Nick Blevins, Jamie Cudmore and Thierry Dusautoir topped the tackling charts with 12 tackles each
France: S Spedding; R Grosso, M Bastareaud (A Dumoulin 69), W Fofana, B Dulin; F Michalak (R Tales 67), S Tillous-Borde (M Parra 58); EB Arous (V Debaty 58), G Guirado (B Kayser), R Slimani (N Mas 62); P Pape, Y Maestri; T Dusautoir (c) B Le Roux (Y Nyanga 67), D Chouly (F Ouedraogo 72)
Canada: M Evans ( H Jones 36 – C Trainor 63); P Mackenzie, C Hearn , N Blevins, DTH van der Merwe; N Hirayama, P Mack (G McRorie 67); H Buydens (D Sears-Duru 47), A Carpenter (E Olmstead 61), D Wooldridge (A Tiedemann; B Beukeboom, J Cudmore; K Gilmour, R Thorpe (R Barkwill 47), Tyler Ardron (c) (N Dala 18)
Referee: JP Doyle
Man of the Match: Frederic Michalak