Canada played its part Saturday on a day that showed the best of women's rugby.
Unfortunately the valiant Canadian display came in a 26-19 loss to England in the Rugby World Cup semifinal in Auckland, New Zealand.
The high-tempo game was a showcase for the sport on a sunny but windy afternoon at Eden Park. Third-ranked Canada gave No. 1 England all it could handle in a hard-hitting, physical affair.
"I'm just proud of the girls for the work they did," said Canada coach Kevin Rouet. "I'm just disappointed by the result, for sure. I thought we deserved more than that."
"We are very close to No. 1. That's what I know now," added the French-born coach.
The win extended England's winning streak to 30 matches, which dates back to a 28-12 loss to New Zealand in July 2019. The Red Roses will meet the defending champion Black Ferns in Saturday's championship game at Eden Park.
The Canadians will play No. 4 France for third place.
Second-ranked New Zealand and France put on their own show after the Canada game.
The Black Ferns rallied from a 17-10 deficit at the half to lead 25-17 before the French cut the lead to one point with a converted try in the 65th minute. French fly half Caroline Drouin had a chance for the win in the 80th minute but her penalty kick drifted wide left.
In the earlier semifinal, the game turned in the 50th minute with England holding on to a slim 18-12 lead and Canada knocking on the door.
England, after resolutely defending a prolonged Canadian attack deep in its own half, won the ball back and went on the attack. Instead of kicking to safety, wing Claudia MacDonald elected to run out from behind her try-line. After cutting through the Canadian defence, she passed to Abby Dow who accelerated past the last line of defence for a highlight-reel try — her second of the day — and 23-12 lead.
Canada finally breached the England defence in the 68th minute with lock Tyson Beukeboom crashing over for a converted try that cut the lead to 23-19.
Emily Scarratt's 70th-minute penalty extended the English lead to seven points. Canada kept coming, forcing the English to make tackle after tackle. But England held on.
Canada's gritty performance drew praise from England.
"Canada were relentless. They came and they came and they came," said England captain Sarah Hunter. "The girls just put their bodies on the line … We were desperate to get into the final next week."
"Canada were fantastic … challenged us in every area of the game," added England coach Simon Middleton.
Karen Paquin and Alysha Corrigan also scored tries for Canada, which trailed 15-12 after a first half that saw the Canadians playing into the wind. Captain Sophie De Goede kicked two conversions.
Marlie Packer also scored a try for England. Scarratt booted a conversion and three penalties.
The Red Roses have not lost since a 28-13 defeat at the hands of New Zealand in July 2019. And they have now won nine straight over Canada.
The Canadian women saw their eight-game win streak snapped.
The English are a professional side with players under contract to the Rugby Football Union. Many of the Canadians have jobs outside of rugby that they put on hold to prepare for the World Cup.
"We're Canadian and we're really proud of it," said de Goede, whose parents both captained Canada in rugby. "But it's not a rugby nation and so I think globally it's not recognized. We really wanted to bring recognition to Canada and Canadian rugby today."
The Canadians resorted to a GoFundMe page to help pay for an unofficial centralization ahead of the World Cup.
"There was no difference in talent out there today," said de Goede. "Just imagine what we can do with more games and more resources. I'm really proud to be Canadian and I think there's a bright future ahead for us."
England lost fullback Helena Rowland to injury early in the second half. And prop Vickii Cornborough was sent to the sin-bin in the 54th minute for repeated England violations.
Rouet stuck with the same starting 15 that beat the seventh-ranked Americans 32-11 in last weekend's quarterfinal.
Both Canada and England came into the match having won their four previous matches at the tournament. And both teams boasted a strong pack with effective driving mauls.
The importance of the Canadian pack was shown by the fact that Rouet, for the second game in a row, had seven forwards and just one back on the bench.
The Canadians lost veteran forward Laura Russell and fly half Taylor Perry to injury on the eve of the tournament. Scrum half Brianna Miller was ruled out after an injury against Italy.
The tournament was originally slated for 2021 but was postponed due to the pandemic.
Canada's best finish at the tournament was second in 2014 when it lost 21-9 to England in the final. The Canadian women placed fourth in 1998, 2002 and 2006 and were fifth last time out in 2017.
England has never finished out of the top three at the tournament.
The Red Roses also won in 1994 and have finished runner-up five-times (losing to the U.S. in 1991 and New Zealand in 2002, 2006, 2010 and 2017). They were third in 1998.
England improved to 29-3-1 all-time over Canada.
Canada and England also met Saturday in the Rugby League World Cup with England winning 54-4 in pool play in Wigan, England. Rugby league is the less popular rugby code, with 13 players per side as opposed to 15 per team for rugby union.
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This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 5, 2022
Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press