France beat Canada 41-18 to reach Rugby World Cup quarter-finals
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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-Andre 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 Frederic 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-Andre 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.
Despite it being a fifth straight win for France, Saint-Andre will be seeking answers as to why his team switched off in the first half.
The French appeared to be in complete control at 17-0 after tries from center Wesley Fofana and hooker Guilhem Guirado, but Canada rallied with two quick tries.
"The first 30 minutes were high quality. Then we played with less intensity, missed tackles and put ourselves in danger," Saint-Andre said. "They were playing with a lot of speed and we failed to react properly."
Left winger DTH Van Der Merwe crossed out wide and hooker Aaron Carpenter bulldozed over the creaking French line on the right.
"I'm really proud of the performance," Canada coach Kieran Crowley said. "We competed for long periods of the game."
At least Canada's tries stirred France back into action.
The French won a penalty at the end of the half, but Michalak chose an attacking lineout instead of a shot at goal. The move paid off, the French rolling maul proved too good and prop Rabah Slimani ducked in to pad out the lead to 24-12.
France beat Italy 32-10 and Romania 38-11, with Saint-Andre using all 31 squad players, extending it to 32 as Grosso came in to replace the injured Yoann Huget.
Although well executed, France's first try against Canada was made easier by some poor defense.
Michalak burst through the midfield, offloading a one-handed reverse pass to Fofana, who easily beat the defense for his 13th test try.
Michalak converted, moving level with Thierry Lacroix on 124 World Cup points, and then passed him after slotting over his first penalty goal.
Another direct move between Michalak and Fofana resulted in a try for Guirado before the Canadians responded with two tries.
The French steadied themselves and, after Michalak chose an attacking lineout rather than going for a kick, Slimani pushed his way through a gap to score.
The fourth try was proving elusive until the French again opted against a shot at goal in favor of an attacking lineout. Mathieu Bastareaud was held up near the posts before Pape stretched out from the subsequent rolling maul to get the fourth try, awarded after a television replay.
The Canadians competed gamely but those efforts took a toll, with Crawley concerned about "four or five injuries" ahead of his team's last match against Romania.
Saint-Andre said he has "no injuries" to worry about ahead of the showdown with Ireland in 10 days' time.