Rugby World Cup 1999
France survive scare against Canada
October 2, 1999
Christophe Juillet of France takes on Canadian centre Scott Brian
© Getty Images
France got a monkey off their backs with victory over Canada in theor opening World Cup match. It was their first win in six internationals and, while not totally convincing, the victory puts them in the running to win Group C.
Two turnovers by Canada allowed France to counter attack and score the two tries they needed to claim the win, although France too could have been faulted for losing ball in possession. However, their loss in contact didn't cost them tries. France scored four tries in total but left others on the table as they dropped passes and fell to stiff Canadian tackles in a very tough and physical encounter.
Questions arose before the match as to whether Canada's captain and only fourth World Cup participant Gareth Rees, would take the field. But take the field he did to keep his record of playing in every one of Canada's World Cup and World Cup qualifying matches since 1986. He didn't, however, last the game.
While his strained quadricep muscle lasted the pace in the first half, he aggravated an ankle injury which caused him to retire just on half-time. By then he had scored five points through a penalty and a conversion, but allowed fullback Scott Stewart to take the touch kicks. He also received a yellow card for a high tackle on Thomas Castaignede.
His loss at the break allowed Bob Ross to come on for his 37th cap but Canada missed Rees's leadership and hard tackling close to the scrum. Rees put Canada into the lead with a penalty in the first minute and many in the crowd must have felt a certain dread that France was in for a tough afternoon.
However, Richard Dourth hit back to even the score a couple of minutes later. On 17 minutes French centre Stephane Glas scored after a Canadian turnover to give the home team the lead.
Young Morgan Williams, the Canadian scrum-half in only his fourth Test, silenced the French crowd when he found space at the side of a maul and darted in under the posts. Rees converted but another Dourth penalty allowed France to recover the lead at 11-10. Oliver Magne then scored a try from another Canadian turnover to give France an 18-10 lead going into half-time after Dourth's conversion.
Canada began the second half with a flourish and lock Mike James nearly scored near the posts, but stiff French tackles denied the big Perpignan forward. At 53-minutes scrum-half Morgan Williams again took the initiative. He hacked a ball through on the 22-meter mark, followed up, lost the ball in a tackle, retrieved it, and rolled over to score. A tremendous individual effort.
With Ross's conversion the score lay at 18-17 and the crowd grew silent having fears that the France might yet again let another international slip through their fingers. It didn't. Forward pressure carried Thomas Castaignede over for France's third try and in the 70th minute French flair saw Emil Ntamack score the kind of flowing back-line try France are known for.
Dourth converted and then kicked a penalty while Ross replied with a penalty for Canada. The French victorious by 33-20.
"I'm always astonished," said Canadian coach Pat Parfrey, "how we can play so well against professional sides and that we even expect to win. We played with passion, the way people expect Canada to play, but in order for us to beat a team like France, or any founding nation, we have to get everything right on the day. Today we didn't. We were good in the line-outs but we faltered in the scrums and turned the ball over at crucial times."
Rees will receive physiotherapy throughout the week as Canada move to Bordeaux to prepare to face Fiji next Saturday, and it looks as though the predictions of a year ago, that Canada and Fiji would play for second spot in Group C, will become a reality.