Canada ran in seven tries to open its Women’s Rugby World Cup campaign with a comfortable 41-5 win over Japan on Saturday, reeling off 36 straight points to snap an early 5-5 tie at Northland Events Centre.
The bigger Canadian forwards had the advantage in the scrum and lineout, used the driving maul to gain metres at will and pressured the Japanese at the breakdown. The Canadian backs, meanwhile, kicked effectively for territory.
But coach Kevin Rouet will no doubt want his team to eliminate mistakes that stymied other attacks, especially in the second half. Canada was guilty of 16 handling errors and 17 turnovers, compared to nine and eight, respectively, for Japan.
“It was not a pretty game,” said the French-born coach, who now calls Quebec City home. “We did the game plan at the beginning. After that I think we could have done a better job. But it’s a win.”
Hooker Emily Tuttosi scored three tries, scrum half Brianna Miller had a pair and Paige Ferries and Mikiela Nelson added single tries for third-ranked Canada. Captain Sophie de Goede kicked two conversions while Miller booted one.
Canada earned a bonus point within the first 30 minutes of the match in scoring its fourth try and led 27-5 at the half.
“It was a good game for us. We started strong, got to work some kinks out,” said de Goede, whose mother and father both captained Canada. “I still think we have a stronger performance in us. I think we’ll keep building from this. But massive credit to Japan. I thought they played as expected. Very well-disciplined. Good structure.”
Maki Takano scored the lone try for No. 13 Japan, whose coach is former Canadian international Lesley McKenzie.
“I’m actually really happy with a lot of the things that we did in the game,” said McKenzie. “We wanted to be physical. They’re a physical team and we wanted to meet that and show that we’re a different team than (the one that ) came in 2017 (and finished 11th).”
The game kicked off at 10:15 p.m. ET Saturday (3:15 p.m. Sunday, New Zealand time).
The Canadians now head to Auckland where there play No. 5 Italy next Saturday (Sunday, New Zealand time) and the No. 6 United States on Oct. 22 (Oct. 23, New Zealand time), both at Waitakere Stadium.
Italy defeated the U.S. 22-10 on Saturday in the other Pool B match in Whangarei, pulling away in the second half after holding a narrow 7-5 lead at the break. While the four-try performance earned the Italians a bonus point, Canada stands first in the pool on points differential.
Canada beat Italy 34-24 when the two met in July in Langford, B.C.
Rouet had to make a late lineup change before kickoff with Julia Schell replacing the injured Taylor Perry at fly half. Anais Holly joined the replacements on the bench. Schell earned her fifth cap for Canada.
Canadian starters Tyson Beukeboom, Karen Paquin and Elissa Alarie are appearing in their third World Cup.
The Canadians went ahead early when Sara Kaljuvee blocked Komachi Imakugi’s attempted clearing kick deep in the Japanese end, with Farries touching down for the first try and a 5-0 lead.
Japan answered quickly with Takano crashing over the line in the fifth minute. But it was Canada the rest of the way.
Taking advantage of a pair of penalties to Japan, the Canadians scored off a driving maul from a lineout with Tuttosi touching the ball down in the 14th minute as rain began to fall. The conversion gave Canada a 12-5 lead.
Miller kept the scoreboard turning in the 24th minute, slicing through the Japanese defence to increase the margin to 17-5. Tuttosi scored again in the 29th minute from the back of the maul off a lineout after another penalty allowed the Canadians to kick deep into Japan territory.
Miller scored her second try in the 35th minute, beating a defender after another driving maul by the Canadian forwards neared the Japan try-line for a 27-5 lead.
Japan showed some impressive goal line defence early in the second half as the Canadians laid siege to its try-line. But the onslaught continued and Tuttosi bulled her way over in the 50th minute. The Canada forwards kept pounding away with Nelson crashing over in the 66th minute.
Japan kept running but was unable to dent the Canadian defence. Irish referee Joy Neville warned the under-pressure Japanese in each half for taking too many penalties.
While second-ranked New Zealand is the defending champion, England is the heavy tournament favourite. The top-ranked Red Roses ran in 14 tries Saturday in thumping No. 21 Fiji 84-19 to extend their win streak to 26 matches dating back to July 2019.
Canada has qualified for all nine World Cups, finishing runner-up to England in 2014. The Canadian women, who came into Saturday’s game with a career record of 21-16-2 at the tournament, have placed fourth three times, in 1998, 2002 and 2006.
Canada was fifth at the 2017 World Cup while Japan was 11th. Japan’s best finish at the tournament was eighth in 1994.
Canada beat Japan 57-0 in their only other meeting, at the 1994 World Cup in Scotland.
This tournament was originally scheduled to kick off last September but was postponed due to the pandemic.
The Canadian Press
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