Canada face frantic four days

Kieran Crowley (File)
Kieran Crowley (File)

Napier - The challenges for Canada keep growing. Beating the All Blacks in New Zealand is one of the rarest achievements in world rugby. Doing it on four days preparation, and coming off a 23-23 draw with lowly-ranked Japan, is almost impossible.

Canada coach Kieran Crowley returned to New Zealand for the Rugby World Cup with the target of finishing third in Pool A.

The Canadians have a win and a draw and are in third place now. But if Tonga upsets two-time finalist France on Saturday, the Canadians will finish fourth unless they upset New Zealand on Sunday.

Across 107 years, the All Blacks have lost just 37 matches at home. That's about once every three years. The glimmer of hope: the All Blacks' last loss at home was in 2009.

Only South Africa, Australia and England - all World Cup champions - and France have beaten New Zealand at home since the turn of the century.

"The All Blacks are an extremely difficult team and we have, I think, only two practices until we play them so it's a bit of a short turnaround," scrumhalf Ed Fairhurst told The Associated Press after Canada overcame an eight-point deficit in the last five minutes to salvage a draw with Japan.

"It would have been nice if we had a little bit longer to work on some stuff, but that's just the nature of the draw."

Top-ranked New Zealand has averaged eight tries a game in the 2011 tournament - thrashing Tonga, dismantling Japan and beating France heavily.

Fairhurst is under no illusions about the difficulty of Sunday's assignment, already joking about what he will say in the dressing room.

"I'm sure I'll use a few cliches, like 'they put their shorts on one leg at a time like everybody else,'" he said.

With 54 caps and a decade of experience, Fairhurst expects he will have to calm down a few less battle-worn players.

"I think some of the younger kids might be a little bit overawed," he said. "But (when you've) been around the block a few times, you're used to seeing these players all the time so it's not too bad.

"It's just an amazing experience playing the best team in the world. It's tough to describe."

Crowley, a World Cup winner with the All Blacks in 1987, is worried that the short time between the matches will affect his team psychologically more than physically.

"The boys have had a pretty hard test match against Japan ... we need to come down off the high of the emotional side of things," he said. "I think it's massively difficult, not only the physical side of things, but the mental side of things. I know when I was playing it used to take me from a Saturday until a Wednesday to come back down from the emotional side of things, because you're putting in a hell of a lot of work mentally.

"So that's going to be a challenge, but we'll prepare the best we can."

Crowley was asked what weaknesses World Cup favorite New Zealand might have.

"At this level when you get these tier one nations there's no weaknesses," he said.

"You just have to play your game."

Canada beat Tonga 25-20 in its opening match, and was holding France at 10-10 before a second-half collapse resulted in a 46-19 blowout.

The team which finishes third in each group will earn automatic entry for the 2015 World Cup, so there's a lot riding on the last weekend of pool matches.

"We felt we played pretty well in the Tonga game, and the French game there was bits we fell apart - and we said as a team we couldn't do that," Canada captain Pat Riordan said.

"It's got to do with the expectations and what we want to do as a team."

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