Clerc hat-trick sinks plucky Canucks
A Vincent Clerc hat-trick inspired France to an otherwise messy 46-19 World Cup Pool A victory over a determined Canada side in Hamilton on Sunday.
'Still is beauty out of harshness bred,' said poet Roy Campbell. He was talking about the Carmague but he could have said it about miserable, wet McLean Park in miserable, wet Napier on Sunday night. You would never have guessed that it was miserable if you had looked at the cheerful, colourful crowd and heard their happy noises, if you had seen the courage of the rugby field, and despite the score the Canadians should not feel miserable at all as they made the best of the massive physical demands on them.
On Wednesday they played the hard Tongans. Four days later they played France who had played the gentle Japanese eight days earlier. Four days' rest for Canada, eight days' rest for France. But the Canadians got on with it and they brought the 22 who had beaten Tonga in Whangarei to play France with their 11 changes from the team that had played Japan, and until the last 20 minutes the Canadians were in touch. They deserve more credit than the scoreline gives them.
Hats off to Canada and all their colourful supporters!
In fact hats off to both sides who in the slippery conditions produced a match with only 61 stoppages and to a referee who kept them bustling along.
France, wearing black and blue, started the game running but when Canada got the ball Pascal Papé was offside and James Pritchard goaled. 3-0 after 2 minutes.
Then there were two tit-for-tat tries. François Trinh-Duc kicked a high up-and-under with lots of pressure on Pritchard. He knocked the ball back and there was Vincent Clerc behind him to score. 7-3 after 5 minutes.
Then the boot was on Ander Monro's foot. He kicked high towards the French posts with DTH van der Merwe putting pressure on the French, the ball bobbed about, hitting the post's padding, and Ryan Smith grounded it for a try. 10-7 to Canada after 7 minutes. The next try was scored 57 minutes later when Damien Traille came out of hiding to run 46 metres to score as Canadian bodies flagged.
Morgan Parra's left boot punished the Canadians. First he drew scores level and then kicked three penalties for nine points in five minutes as the Canadians infringed at the tackle again and again, as the French tried attacking.
That made the half-time score 19-10 to France.
On either side of another Parra penalty, Munro dropped two goals, the second an astonishing achievement., The ball was shoved back through the legs. He picked it up and dropped for goal, not a soaring kick but worth three points. 22-16 after 48 minutes. Munro, bless him, found the kick amusing.
The French attacked but the brave Canadians held them back till Trinh-Duc dropped a goal. 25-16 after 56 minutes and then 25-19 after a Pritchard penalty. Canada had the better of territory at this stage and were well in touch with France.
Then Traille came out of hiding. You would have known he was in the French team only if you had looked at the programme up till then but his sudden appearance was telling. From a line-out on their left France went right. Louis Picamoles charged in midfield which gave them quick ball and Traille appeared outside the centres with Clerc on his right. The big fullback dummied and then cut infield on a straight line for the posts. 32-19 after 64 minutes. Traille then retired into obscurity when he had emerged.
Canada were close when Aaron Carpenter broke from a scrum, and dashed ahead, ignored by Trinh-Duc.
France attacked and exchanged a penalty for an attacking scrum in midfield. They went 8-9-14 and Clerc was over in the corner. Parra converted from touch.
There was just a minute to go and in that minute France played their best rugby - this way and that, much interpassing and then inside from David Marty to Clerc for his hat-trick of tries and his team's bonus point.
Man of the Match: Louis Picamoles, the big French No.8, who was the best on the field at dealing with the high ball, who tackled with purpose and was often in the van of drives.
Moment of the Match: Ander Munro's second, astonishing drop.
Villain of the Match: Nobody really.
Tries: Clerc 3, Traille
Cons: Parra 4
Pens: Parra 5
Pens: Pritchard 2
DGs: Monro 2
France: 15 Damien Traille, 14 Vincent Clerc, 13 David Marty, 12 Maxime Mermoz, 11 Aurelien Rougerie (captain), 10 Francois Trinh-Duc, 9 Morgan Parra, 8 Louis Picamoles, 7 Julien Bonnaire, 6 Fulgence Ouedraogo, 5 Romain Millo-Chluski, 4 Pascal Pape, 3 Luc Ducalcon, 2 William Servat, 1 Jean-Baptiste Poux.
Replacements: 16 Guilhem Guirado, 17 Fabien Barcella, 18 Julien Pierre, 19 Imanol Harinordoquy, 20 Dimitri Yachvili, 21 Fabrice Estebanez, 22 Maxime Medard.
Canada: 15 James Pritchard, 14 Ciaran Hearn, 13 DTH van der Merwe, 12 Ryan Smith, 11 Phil Mackenzie, 10 Ander Monro, 9 Ed Fairhurst, 8 Aaron Carpenter, 7 Chauncey O'Toole, 6 Adam Kleeberger, 5 Jamie Cudmore, 4 Jebb Sinclair, 3 Jason Marshall, 2 Pat Riordan (captain), 1 Hubert Buydens.
Replacements: 16 Ryan Hamilton, 17 Scott Franklin, 18 Tyler Hotson, 19 Nanyak Dala, 20 Sean White, 21 Nathan Hirayama, 22 Conor Trainor.
By Paul Dobson