Coach Kevin Rouet knows the challenge that awaits Canada in Friday’s bronze-medal match at the Rugby World Cup in New Zealand.
The 35-year-old Rouet is French, although he now calls Quebec City home. And prior to the World Cup, he had a five-month stint coaching a club side in Bordeaux.
“I know all those French girls,” he said. “I know the style of play in France. This is maybe an advantage for us, I can say that. And some of the [Canadian] girls play in France also.”
“I’m French, for sure,” he said with a laugh. “But I’m coaching Canada. I just want to win and I don’t think much about that [France versus Canada].”
Rouet moved to Quebec 12 years ago, earning a master’s degree in project management from the University of Quebec at Rimouski. Initially he just planned to spend two years studying in Quebec but stayed on after getting a project manager job with Canam Engineering, working in bridge construction.
Some five years into the job, he quit to focus on rugby.
Top-ranked England takes on No. 2 New Zealand in the final that follows Canada’s match at Eden Park in Auckland. The Red Roses have collected 30 consecutive matches dating back to a 28-13 loss to the Black Ferns at the Women’s Rugby Super Series.
Both Canada and France, meanwhile, are coming off gut-wrenching semifinal losses.
Canada pushed England to the limit before falling 26-19 last weekend.
“I truly believed we deserved more than that,” Rouet said. “But this is a game of rugby and you have to win it. And we didn’t. I’m still disappointed.”
The French lost a 25-24 nail-biter to New Zealand, denied the semifinal win when a last-minute penalty kick drifted just wide.
Canada, whose women’s program is amateur compared to England, France and New Zealand, has turned heads at the tournament with its powerful driving maul and elusive backs. Now it hopes to turn that admiration into a medal.
While France has an 8-7-0 edge in the all-time series, the Canadians have won the last four meetings. Canada defeated France 36-19 the last time they met, at the 2019 Super Series.
“This is a very different French [side]. They are better in their kicking game, way better than they used to be,” said Rouet. “They have a strong defence now, very strong.”
France has not conceded a point in the first 20 minutes of their first five matches. And French lock Madoussou Fall has missed just one of 70 tackles at the tournament.
The two sides have World Cup history. France downed Canada in the third-place game in 2002 in Barcelona (41-7) and 2006 in Edmonton (17-8).
Canada has never won a bronze-medal match at the tournament, also losing third place to England (31-15) in 1998. In contrast, France has won six of seven third-place matches at the tournament.
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.
Rouet has made two variations to his matchday squad with Sara Svoboda slotting in at blindside flanker for Fabiola Forteza, who shifts to the bench. Emma Taylor replaces Ngalula Fuamba among the replacements.
“We felt the roster could benefit from some fresh energy at this stage of the tournament, and Sara and Emma have trained well to earn this opportunity,” said Rouet.
Fullback Elissa Alarie, in her third World Cup, earns her 47th cap in her final game for Canada. The 36-year-old from Trois-Rivieres, Que., has also been a stalwart for the Canadian sevens team, playing in Tokyo and serving as a reserve in 2016 after a knee injury limited her playing time ahead of Rio.
Veteran lock Tyson Beukeboom will move into sole possession of second place on Canada’s all-time women’s 15s cap list if she comes 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 earns 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.
French coach Thomas Darracq has 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.
The Canadian women will move into second place in the world rankings if they win and New Zealand loses. Canada has not been ranked as high as second since November 2016.
But France will climb above Canada into third place if it wins and Les Bleues could move into second if they win and New Zealand loses, providing one of the margins is by more than 15 points.
English referee Sara Cox will take charge of the third-place game with Ireland’s Joy Neville and New Zealand’s Lauren Jenner as assistant referees and England’s Ian Tempest as the television match official.