Saturday marked the start of the final phase. Two high-flying semi-finals were on the programme, in addition to the classification matches for the teams that did not qualify for the last four.
Today, the French team faced a mountain pass that was out of its league. After climbing the Japanese mountain yesterday, the team led by Jonathan Hivernat and Cédric Nankin set their sights on the previously unbeaten Canadian peaks.
Once again, France were pushed forward by the large numbers of fans in the stands at the Halle Carpentier. After a hard-fought first half, France managed to hold off the North American armada, and by half-time the 24-24 scoreline perfectly reflected the mood of the match. It was at the start of the 4th quarter that Canada managed to open up a +3 lead, thanks to the inevitable Zak Madell, who was always in the right place. At the time, it looked like they were heading for an easy qualification, but that was without counting on a burst of pride from the Tricolores. Boosted by a frenzied crowd, they came back to within a point of grabbing a decisive interception on the last possession, but to no avail. It was a frustrating defeat for the French, but one they have no regrets about, as their opponents were slightly better and more clinical in important moments. Canada continue their perfect record in the tournament and will be in the final at the Accor Arena.
The Canadian team’s star striker, Zak Madell, admits they had their work cut out this afternoon: “We played incredibly well, and France played incredibly well too. It was the toughest game I can remember playing against the French team in my career. Every time we played against them, they got stronger and we found it hard to contain them.”
The second battle for the final was between Australia and Japan, two nations that had had their ups and downs in the group phase. Japan started as slight favourites given their recent encounters, but they never really got into the game. Despite being so dynamic, the Japanese forwards were never able to break down a defence that gave them no respite. Entangled in the Steelers’ grids, Japan never troubled Brad Dubberley’s team in terms of scoring. The Steelers have gone from strength to strength since the start of the tournament, putting in increasingly convincing performances, particularly defensively. The Australians were able to manage the end of the match, winning 52-48.
The Canadians and Australians will now meet again for the title, having already met in the group stage. Canada won by a single try in a very even match. After a superb opening match on Wednesday morning, there is no doubt that they will once again provide us with 32 minutes of very high quality to decide the first ever International Cup.
Japan, who were beaten yesterday by the French team, will be keen to make up for their defeat by the French to snatch 3rd place. But they will have their work cut out in a packed Accor Arena behind their team.
As far as the two classification matches were concerned, logic was respected on both occasions. Great Britain and the United States, who were both contenders for the final victory, did not stumble against New Zealand and Denmark respectively. Even if the Americans gave themselves a real scare, squandering a clear lead on the scoreboard. The Danes, who came from nowhere at the end of the match, managed to hang on to extra time in the dying moments, but failed to win in the end. The New Zealanders and Danes seemed a notch below the other teams in this International Cup and were unable to make the most of their qualities against more established opponents.
The latter will face each other tomorrow in the opening match of the day at the Accor Arena at 11am, while an Anglo-Saxon duel will pit American and British teams against each other at 1pm to see which of them will finish 5th.
11h00: New Zealand VS Denmark – Match 7-8
13:00: Great Britain VS Denmark – Match 5-6
3.30pm: Japan VS France – Bronze medal match
17:30: Closing ceremony
7.00pm: Canada VS Australia – Final
8.30pm: Awards ceremony