And Scotland move into repechage after dramatic win over Ireland
Italy qualify for Rugby World Cup 2021
Italy booked their ticket to New Zealand next year while Scotland kept their hopes alive after a dramatic final day at the Rugby World Cup 2021 European qualifier.
All four teams – Ireland, Italy, Scotland and Spain – went into the final match day of the round-robin tournament level on five points, and the Azzure put themselves in a strong position to take the one automatic qualification spot with a 34-10 bonus-point victory over the Spanish in the first game of the day.
Tries from Lucia Gai and Michela Sillari gave Italy an early lead before Spain narrowed the gap to 15-10 early in the second half when Amalia Argudo crossed. Italy pulled away in the final quarter, though, with further tries scored by Giordana Duca and Veronica Madia as well as the awarding of a penalty try.
That result ended Scotland’s hopes of automatic qualification for the Rugby World Cup, but they could still finish second and move into the Final Qualification Tournament (FQT) if they beat Ireland.
The Irish could leapfrog Italy if they beat Scotland with a bonus point (if teams are level on points in the table the winner of the match between the two sides is ranked highest and Ireland had beaten Italy). Beat Scotland without a bonus point and Ireland would go into the FQT.
So everything was on the line in that final match in Parma – and it lived up to the billing, with the match decided by the final kick.
It was a tight contest, as matches between Ireland and Scotland have tended to be in the last few years, and the Irish got the opening try following a powerful run by Linda Djougang.
Scotland, though, led at half-time following a Helen Nelson penalty and Rhona Lloyd try. And they extended that lead when Lana Skeldon went over from close range early in the second half.
Back came Ireland. Stacey Flood closed the gap with a penalty before a converted Lindsay Peat try gave the Irish the lead and another Flood penalty made it 18-13 in the 66th minute.
That’s how the scores remained until the final minute. Then, with Ireland down to 14 players after Eve Higgins was sin-binned for a dangerous tackle, Chloe Rollie burst over the line to level the scores and Sarah Law nailed the last-kick conversion to seal a 20-18 win for Scotland.
Joy for Scotland, who move into the FQT, but heartbreak for Ireland, whose World Cup dreams are over.
Elation for Italy, too, who topped the table to qualify as Europe One. They join Pool B, which features Canada, the USA and Asia One (the winner of the Asia Championship due to take place later this year).
Italy head coach Andrea di Giandomenico said: “The players must take all of the credit for this result and what we have to come in the future because they work so hard for each other and love to represent their country.
“I feel like Italy deserves to go straight to the World Cup with the way we have played in recent matches.”
Scotland, who have not qualified for a World Cup since 2010, join Samoa and Colombia in reaching the FQT, which will be completed by the Asia Championship runner-up. The winner of that tournament, which will take place next year, will complete Pool A alongside New Zealand, Australia and Wales.
Scotland head coach Bryan Easson said: “We will think about the repechage event soon, but for now I just want to praise the grit and determination these players showed in those last few minutes.
“The belief in this group has been building up and up over the last two years and I am very proud.”
Ireland coach Adam Griggs said: “We are all devastated, we had the win within our grasp and it slipped away. The girls have worked so hard and they are hurting a lot right now.”
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