If you are reading this, there is a good chance you already know that England and Canada will be settling their pool match draw by facing off in the 2014 Women’s World Cup Final on August 17th in Paris. England cruised to an easy 40-7 win over Ireland, and Canada battled an inspired French side to win 18-16. A missed French conversion as time ran out kept the game from going into overtime. The USA, also, won their 6th/7th place match 23-20 when the Australian kicker missed a penalty kick in the 84th minute. The Eagles will face New Zealand for 5th place on the final day of the tournament. New Zealand won their pool match with the USA 34-3.
I think I covered my who, what, where, when, and why in the first paragraph, so now time to explain the title.
The 20,000 seat Jean Bouin Stadium grew from about half full for the England-Ireland match to roughly 80% for the final match of the evening – France vs Canada. I have watched France’s men play New Zealand in a 1999 World Cup semi-final at Twickenham, a 2007 quarterfinal in Millennium Stadium, and a 2011 final at Eden Park, but these occasions did not hold a candle to the volume and passion with which La Marseillaise was sung on Wednesday night. The cries of Allez Les Bleus literally thundered inside one’s chest as if you were standing next to a speaker at a heavy metal concert. The crowd roared and booed at the ref every time a call was made that favored Canada. Weirdly they would start the barrage at the ref when the French were smoothly mauling their way down the pitch. On one occasion I turned to a French journalist and asked what they were yelling about. His reply, “I don’t really know the rules. I just started following 8 days ago. We support the team.” Aux quais, you have to admire the passion.
When a kicker was setting up penalties or conversions a sign flashed on the stadium video screen in French and English to “Please respect the kicker.” The noise would slowly diminish with an audible shushing around the stadium, a strange politeness while they chain smoked next to you.
Following the match I had an opportunity to speak with Mandy Marchak (#13 for Canada). I have been a fan of Mandy’s on the 7s circuit for several years now. Marchak crossed the pitch to have at least 2 solo try saving tackles and her vision began the movement from their own try line that led to Magali Harvey’s magical run the length of the pitch for Canada’s final try.
Her analysis of Canada’s play was, “It took us a little while to recognize things that we needed to recognize sooner, but we played the game we wanted to play. Even though, we would have liked to play more expansive. We went out and did what we planned. The French played exactly as we expected. Their forwards are extremely physical. We knew that this is where most of the game would be played, in the contact area.”
I asked her if the crowd had been a factor. Her reply, “The crowd wasn’t a factor, and you know the beauty of the French is they cheer for good rugby. Whether you are French or not, they are cheering for the better of the game.”
Several of the best women players from many countries have opted not to play in this World Cup as they prepare for the Olympics. I asked Mandy if their trip to the final in Paris would have been easier if some of the stars of the Canadian 7s team who remained in Canada had been part of the World Cup squad. She declined comment. That question certainly has the rock on one side and the hard place on the other. Such charm, diplomacy, vision, and tenacity in a 29 year old, Canada could do worse than her as Prime Minister one day.