Canada is enduring a war of attrition at the Rugby World Cup in New Zealand. But coach Kevin Rouet’s team has yet to stumble.
The third-ranked Canadian women (2-0-0) wrap up Pool B play Saturday night against the sixth-ranked U.S. (1-1-0) in Auckland (3:15 p.m. Sunday local time) in control of their own destiny, despite losing a third player for the tournament in the wake of last weekend’s 22-12 win over No. 5 Italy.
Scrum half Brianna Miller was taken to hospital after the match and ruled out of further play due to “significant internal injuries.” She joins fly half Taylor Perry (knee) and veteran front-row forward Laura Russell (upper body injury) on the sidelines.
Despite the injuries, Rouet says his squad is in a good place.
“They are sad but next practice, it’s like ‘We’re ready to move on, and we need to win the next game,’” said the French-born coach, who now calls Quebec City home. “It’s a good mindset and I’m proud of them for that … They want to win for Miller. They want to win for Laura. They want to win for Tayor.”
The good news is Miller is doing well, according to Rouet.
“She’s fine. She’s with us,” he said. “But she can’t play in the next six weeks.”
Justine Pelletier will start at scrum half against the Americans, who lost 22-10 to Italy before downing No. 12 Japan 30-17. The U.S. currently is third in the pool, behind Italy on points difference. Italy plays Japan (0-2-0) earlier Saturday.
“I feel bad for Miller but I am very confident with Justine going on the field,” Rouet said of his scrum half. “She will be a great (No.) 9.”
Captain Sophie de Goede will take over as placekicker for Miller, with Tessier also a kicking option.
Canada defeated Japan 41-5 in its opener. And Rouet likes what he has seen from his team, in patches
“I just want that it happens more in an 80-minute game than just 30, 35 minutes,” he said. “We know that.”
The Canadians have excelled at the set piece and their driving maul has been dominant. But they have shot themselves in the foot at times with handling errors.
And the Americans will likely offer a more physical challenge than the first two opponents.
“We are also physical … I still believe we are better than them in the set piece,” said Rouet, whose team defeated the Americans 36-5 at the Pacific Four Series in June. “Even our backline, I think if we move the ball, we can move the ball better than the U.S.A.
“But I know it’s never an easy game. As Canadians, we want to win against U.S.A. And same with U.S.A. They always want to say that they’re the best … It’s going to be a good fight.”
U.S. coach Rob Cain agrees.
“U.S.A. against Canada is always a massive test match,” he said. “At a World Cup, it’s an even bigger game for us both. Canada has shown what they can do really well so far and we are excited at the challenges that are ahead. We know what we need to do and we know how we are going to do it.”
No. 1 England, No. 2 New Zealand and No. 3 Canada have already guaranteed their place in the quarterfinals. But only New Zealand is mathematically guaranteed to finish atop its pool.
The nine other teams are still in contention for the five remaining berths in the knockout round.
Following the end of the pool phase, the eight quarterfinalists will be ranked one through eight, with the three pool winners seeded first to third, runners-up fourth to six and the two best third-placed teams seventh and eighth.
The top seed will then play the eighth in the quarterfinals, the second will face the seventh, third will take on sixth and the fourth will meet fifth.
The host Black Ferns currently have the best record of the pool leaders — ahead of Canada on points difference.
Rouet has made six changes to his starting 15, explaining he is just rotating his roster. Alex Tessier shifts from centre to fly half.
—Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press