While Canada lost its third match in a row at the Rugby World Cup, by a lopsided score of 41-18 to the French team, our lads may have played their best game of the tournament. France is a perennial rugby power, and the Canadian team kept it close until halfway in the second half. While there was no realistic expectation that the Canadians could actually win going in, they battled and scored some gutsy tries, and ratcheted the pressure on the French, who need a clean sweep in the prelims to assure a high seeding in the quarter-finals.
France got in on an early breakdown and what the play-by-play team called "flimsy defence", and scored the earliest try in the tournament so far, in the second minute. It bode ill, since Canada seemed outclassed, and needed to play with hope to keep it close.
One area that I thought would tilt the game dangerously in France's favour was their pack and scrummaging. Heavily outweighing ours, and much more experienced and technically proficient, they were poised to eat our lunch I thought.
Again though, the Canadian forwards did really well, holding France to a standstill twice on their put-ins, even once earning a penalty. Mostly though, the boys played it smart, and like they've done all tournament, concentrated on winning their own balls clean and quick, and getting the ball out to the backs. No sense trying to beat the French at their own game. As the commentators said, the Canadian pack "doesn't like to wrestle." But again, our boys were perfect, winning all of their own balls, and stealing three from France.
The lineout play was similar to previous games, with Canada electing to not contest France's throw-ins, focusing on defending off their lineouts, but that was met with more debatable success. I think the French scored three tries off mauls that they instigated off lineouts.
France was up 17-0 and the thought was that this might be a runaway when DTH van der Merwe, him again, pulled off another magic act, getting the ball ten metres from the goal line, but faced with numerous French defenders. He juked one out of his boots, then scampered in for an amazing try. From there, the game was much closer, the gap eventually narrowing to 17-12 on a try by Aaron Carpenter, and an unfortunate miss on the conversion.
Canada's only points from there were penalty kicks, and although they threatened the French goal line a few times, couldn't put in a couple more tries for a bonus point.
Meanwhile France kept its composure, which isn't guaranteed when the stakes are low and expectations high. They can come unraveled when things aren't going their way, historically, but this might be a different French team. They may not have the sublime skill they've shown at previous World Cups, but they're a focused, disciplined, resilient bunch, not resorting to cheap shots or experiencing meltdowns or trying to be too fancy. They may go far in this tournament.
Next up for Canada is the last game of its prelim round, and of the tournament, being mathematically eliminated. They'll try to salvage pride by winning one game against Romania, who will also be trying the same thing.
Another World Cup for Canada where they show lots of heart but a talent deficit, and it may be that the rest of the World is passing us by. I'll be interested to see what changes occur during the next four years.