France needs improved performance against Canada
Updated: September 15, 2011, 00:30
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TAKAPUNA, New Zealand - France needs a commanding performance against Canada at the Rugby World Cup to stop any doubt setting in after a sloppy opening win over Japan roused the ire of the critics at home and abroad.
But the challenge posed by a physical and powerful Canada team is likely to be just as difficult as it was against fleet-footed Japan.
"They know how to play, they're not just content with defending,'' France flanker Imanol Harinordoquy said. "As soon as there's a loose ball they like to counterattack.''
France had lopsided wins in its previous three tests against Canada - 50-6 in 2005, 47-13 in 2004, and 35-3 in 2002.
But the World Cup seems to inspire the Canadians, and France won their two contests at this tournament by far tighter margins: 19-13 in 1991 and 33-20 in '99. France has won six of their seven meetings, losing away to Canada 18-16 in '94.
Many observers didn't think Canada would beat Tonga on Wednesday, but the intense and composed attitude shown by the Canadians in a 25-20 win was impressive.
"They have a mobile and powerful pack,'' Harinordoquy said. "They've got (Jamie) Cudmore, the No. 8 (Aaron Carpenter) who is big and strong.''
Many of the French players can't wait to be reacquainted with Cudmore, who plays for Clermont Auvergne in the French Top 14 league. Aurelien Rougerie, who will captain France on Sunday, and scrumhalf Morgan Parra are his club teammates.
In January, Cudmore was given a 40-day ban for punching Perpignan's Gregory Le Corvec.
A year earlier, he was banned for 10 weeks for stamping on Saracens flanker Jacques Burger in a Heineken Cup match, and in 2008 he was banned for five weeks for punching Munster and Ireland lock Paul O'Connell.
"Cudmore is a redoubtable opponent,'' Harinordoquy said. "He's made a name for himself, he's a good, strong second row who likes to attack when he has the ball, who likes putting in big tackles.
"He plays hard - but he's a Canadian, a good old lumberjack.''
Cudmore and flanker Adam Kleeberger were both on the field last time the teams met, six years ago in Nantes, when France scored an even 25 points each half and ran in seven tries to overwhelm the Canadians.
But Canada has improved its discipline and sharpened its focus, and France will need to play better than it did against Japan to take control of the match and avoid an unwanted slip up.
Should France lose in Napier on Sunday, it would then probably need to beat New Zealand in its subsequent match to ensure second place in the group.
Harinordoquy came in for harsh criticism from coach Marc Lievremont, who described his performance against Japan as "amateurish,'' but he does accept the French underperformed last week.
"We must greatly reduce the number of balls we gave away against the Japanese. We still need to work on our rucks, to keep the ball better,'' said Harinordoquy, who has 71 caps and played against Canada in 2002. "We need to be more aggressive when a team attacks us, as we were sometimes too passive against the Japanese.''
Surprisingly, Harinordoquy was not vexed by Lievremont's tirade against him.
"Honestly, the words didn't hurt me. They were picked up everywhere (by the media) but I've had far harder criticism before,'' he said. "I know he expects a lot from me. I've played a lot worse, and a lot better. When you pull on the French shirt it's to be the best you can, so it's up to me to concentrate on my game and to play better than I did.''
For all the talk of Canada's improved game, two-time World Cup runner-up France knows it should have enough to win fairly comfortably - providing it plays the right way and cuts out the sloppy stuff.
"Now we have to improve, we have to erase all the mistakes we made against Japan,'' France prop Jean-Baptiste Poux said. "Of course they're a more physical team than Japan, of course, but they also have talented players. They do play well, but we have our status to defend.''
France plays the All Blacks six days after facing Canada, and then completes its Pool A matches against Tonga.