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Canadian women to face France in rugby World Cup semi-final

Kelly and Laura Russell are ready and willing to guide Canada’s women’s team through the World Cup.

John Lehmann/The Globe and Mail

The Canadian team has to go through host France in order to reach the final of the IRB Women's Rugby World Cup.

It won't be easy with a sellout crowd of vocal supporters expected to cheer the French side's every move on Wednesday at Stade Jean Bouin in Paris.

Canadian head coach François Ratier doesn't expect his players to be intimidated by the surroundings in the semi-final matchup. In fact, he feels it will actually give his squad an advantage.

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"For me, it's a challenge for the French, not for us," he said Tuesday from the Paris suburb of Marcoussis. "Because they play in front of their crowd, in front of 20,000 people, and the pressure is on them, not on us. So for us it's clear. We know that we're going to play against an entire country but it's a source of motivation.

"We are not afraid at all."

Canada (2-0-1) has looked strong at the 12-team tournament with a 31-5 victory over Spain on Aug. 1 and a 42-7 rout of Samoa on Aug. 5. Canada secured a semi-final berth with a 13-13 tie against England – the 2010 finalist and a three-time runner-up – last Saturday.

France (3-0), meanwhile, has not conceded a single try so far, outscoring Wales, South Africa and Australia by a combined score of 98-6.

Canada and France split a two-game series last fall. France took the opener 27-19 on Nov. 2 while Canada beat the host side 11-6 four days later.

The winner of Wednesday's game will face either Ireland or England in Sunday's final.

"This game is a fantastic opportunity for us to show the world that we belong here in the semi-finals of the World Cup and in the finals, and our goal is the play our game and enjoy the experience," Ratier said.

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Canada is 9-5-1 under Ratier, a former French top division player, who took over the Canadian program in March, 2013. He has his side playing disciplined rugby with a team-first mentality.

There will be a new champion at this year's tournament.

The England-Canada draw left four-time defending champions New Zealand out of the semi-final picture. It was the first time the Black Ferns have failed to reach the final four in tournament history.

Canada's best result at this event is a fourth-place finish, achieved in 1998, 2002 and 2006. The team was a disappointing sixth in 2010.

Magali Harvey of Quebec City has three tries in the tournament and leads the Canadian team with 39 points, behind only England's Emily Scarratt's 43.

There will be one change to the Canadian lineup as Brittany Waters of Vancouver will replace Jessica Dovanne of Victoria on the wing.

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Canadian captain Kelly Russell said her teammates are "gritty, fierce and ready to go."

"We believe in what we're doing and how we're playing," she said. "We want it."

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