France dominates Canada women to win bronze medal at Rugby World Cup

AUCKLAND, New Zealand — Canada's Rugby World Cup campaign ended in disappointment Saturday, beaten 36-0 by France in the bronze-medal match.

The fourth-ranked French were better in just about every phase, outkicking, outrunning and outhitting the third-ranked Canadian women, who perhaps left their 'A' game in last weekend's gritty semifinal loss to top-ranked England.

"We didn't show up. We know it," said Canada's French-born coach Kevin Rouet. "It was not a good performance for us. Congrats to France. They played a great game."

Defending champion New Zealand, ranked second, upset No. 1 England 34-31 before a soldout Eden Park in the final that followed Canada's match. The win snapped the Red Roses' 30-match win streak dating back to a 28-13 loss to the Black Ferns in July 2019 at the Women's Rugby Super Series.

New Zealand has won six of the last seven World Cups, defeating England in the final five times. England (twice) and the U.S. are the only other teams to hoist the trophy.

The bronze-medal win will move France past Canada into third place in the world rankings. New Zealand needed to win by more than 15 points to return to the top of the rankings

It marked the third time in a row — and seventh in nine editions of the World Cup — that France has finished third at the tournament. The French have lost the bronze-medal match just once, beaten by Australia in 2010.— that France has finished third at the tournament. The French have lost the bronze-medal match just once, beaten by Australia in 2010.

Canada's best finish was second in 2014 when it lost 21-9 to England in the final. The Canadians were fifth last time out, in 2017 in Ireland.

Marine Menager scored two tries while Madoussou Fall, Pauline Bourdon, Annaelle Deshaye added singles for France, which led 22-0 at the half. Caroline Drouin booted four conversions and a penalty.

The Canadians had a territorial edge in the second half but often shot themselves in the foot with handling errors when they did make ground.

"We'll look to build on this," said Canada captain Sophie de Goede, who was impressive throughout the tournament. "We want to earn respect and part of earning respect is being honest about performance and we weren't good enough today, so full credit to France."

Despite the loss Saturday, the Canadian women have turned heads since opening the tournament with a 41-5 win over No. 12 Japan, showing off a powerful pack and elusive backs. They were the only non-professional side to make the final four, without centralized contracts and with many putting day jobs aside to represent their country.

Canada gave England all it could handle before falling 26-19 in last weekend's semifinal. The French lost a 25-24 nail-biter to New Zealand in the other semifinal, denied the win when a last-minute penalty kick drifted just wide.

Canada came into the third-place match with a 7-8-0 record against the French but had won the previous four meetings. France's last win over the Canadian women came in 2013, a 27-19 decision on home turf in Pontarlier.

The two sides had World Cup history. France downed Canada in the third-place game in 2002 in Barcelona (41-7) and 2006 in Edmonton (17-8). Canada also lost the third-place match to England (31-15) in 1998.

It was a sunny but breezy afternoon at Eden Park with temperatures around 29 Celsius.

For the sixth game in a row at the tournament, the French held their opposition scoreless in the first 20 minutes with Canada playing into the wind in the first half.

France kicked effectively early, pinning the Canadians in their end with a 50-22 kick. Six phases later after the lineout, the six-foot-two Fall crashed over in the 12th minute for a converted try and 7-0 lead.

The French scrum was rock-solid and the forwards kept battering away at the Canadian defence. Drouin upped the lead to 10-0 with a penalty in the 21st minute after a Canadian infraction near its try-line.

After spending much of the half playing defence, the Canadians attacked late in the half only to be penalized for not releasing the ball in the tackle.

From the ensuing penalty, France drove back up the field. Centre Gabrielle Vernier sliced through the Canadian line, beating Canadian fly half Alex Tessier, and passed to Bourdon for a converted try in the 36th minute and a 17-0 lead.

Another 50-22 kick gave France a lineout deep in the Canadian end and Menager went over in the corner after a slickly executed attack down the blind side from the driving maul.

The French kept coming in the second half with tries by Annaelle Deshaye (42nd) and Menager (61st).

France's Vernier was sent to the sin bin in the 62nd minute for a high tackle. Vernier got the worst of the collision but got the yellow card.

Having used all its replacements, France played with 13 women late in the game with Vernier in the bin and Menager forced off with an injury.

Canada also lost forward Emma Taylor to injury in the dying minutes.

Rouet, who now makes his home in Quebec City, made two changes to his matchday squad with Sara Svoboda slotting in at blindside flanker for Fabiola Forteza, who shifted to the bench. Taylor replaced Ngalula Fuamba among the replacements.

French coach Thomas Darracq made one change to his starting 15, slotting in Assia Khalfaoui at prop for just her third test start. The French matchday 23 features five players who won bronze at the 2017 tournament.

Emotions ran high during the anthems with 35-year-old Canadian flanker Karen Paquin close to tears.

Fullback Elissa Alarie, in her third World Cup, earned her 47th cap in her final game for Canada. The 36-year-old from Trois-Rivières, Que., has also been a stalwart for the Canadian sevens team.

Veteran lock Tyson Beukeboom moved into sole possession of second place on Canada’s all-time women’s 15s cap list, coming off the bench to make her 56th national team appearance. Gillian Florence, who retired in 2010, tops the list with 67 Canadian caps.

Prop Olivia DeMerchant earned her 54th cap, passing sisters Laura and Kelly Russell for fourth place in the Canadian women's record book. Kelly has retired while Laura missed this World Cup through injury.

The Canadian women won three straight to take Pool B before dispatching the seventh-ranked Americans 32-11 in the quarterfinal.

France finished runner-up to England in Pool C at 2-1-0 before downing No. 5 Italy 39-3 in the quarterfinals.

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This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 12, 2022.

The Canadian Press