A look at the talking points from the latest round of pool matches in Whangarei
Women’s Rugby World Cup: Day Five Highlights
The Rugby World Cup pool stages are almost complete with just three matches left to play.
Day five saw Australia, New Zealand and France secure victories at the Northland Events Centre, with the Wallaroos and les Bleues joining the Black Ferns in the quarter-finals.
We look at a few of the talking points from Whangarei…
Women’s Rugby World Cup: Day Five Highlights
Race for the last eight
We now know five of the eight quarter-finalists. Canada, England and New Zealand booked their places in the knockout stages last weekend while Australia and France put their names in the line-up with their wins on Saturday.
We also know that neither Fiji nor Scotland will be progressing at the tournament after their heavy defeats. So this is how the seedings look with three matches still to play…
There are five teams in the running for the final three places – how could it play out?
Let’s take Pool C first. With England favourites to beat South Africa at Waitakere Stadium on Sunday, they are likely to leapfrog France to take top spot in that pool and finish as either second or third seeds overall, with the Springbok Women being knocked out.
Both the remaining Pool B matches take place in Auckland tomorrow – and there is a chance that three teams could finish on ten points.
Canada currently sit top of the pool with ten points but if the USA beat them with a bonus point (and deny Canada a losing bonus point) they would also finish on ten, while Italy could reach that figure too with a bonus-point win over Japan in the first game of the day. Then it would all come down to points difference as to who finishes where in the table.
Looking at the formbook, though, Canada are on a five-match winning run against the Eagles so are odds-on to win that match and top the pool. And Italy should beat Japan to come second in the group.
Then the USA would go through as one of the two best third-placed teams with Wales from Pool A. Still with us?!
Of course, that is how we expect it to play out on paper – it could go very differently on the pitch.
The loss of Laure Sansus to injury would be a blow to any team, but France do have another world-class scrum-half to call upon in Pauline Bourdon.
Sansus has retired after suffering a serious knee injury in last week’s defeat by England, so Bourdon wore the No 9 shirt in France’s 44-0 victory over Fiji in Whangarei – and she delivered a Player of the Match performance.
There was sharp distribution, a couple of box kicks and a brilliant break that saw her beat four Fiji defenders. She will keep teams on their toes in the knockout stages just as Sansus did.
Love for Fijiana
Fiji’s first-ever World Cup may be over but they – and their fans – have delighted throughout.
While the match against France didn’t feature the flair we saw in their opening two matches, including that historic victory over South Africa last week, there was plenty of support for them in the stands at Whangarei, just as there has been at all venues. Even the lack of points didn’t dampen the spirits, with Fiji flags flying proudly throughout.
Fijiana may not have made it through to the quarter-finals but they have certainly entertained and brought plenty of vibrancy to the tournament. It will be fascinating to see how they progress over the next three years and what they can produce at RWC 2025.
New Zealand demonstrated just how dangerous a back-line they have in whitewashing Scotland 57-0, albeit that they were not quite as accurate in the second half as the first.
Yet the performances of players over the past three pool matches presents Wayne Smith with some tough selection choices for the quarter-final.
Take the wings. Ruby Tui and Portia Woodman both excelled in the wins over Australia and Wales but Ayesha Leti-I’iga offers something a little different and impressed on her return from injury against Scotland. Within ten minutes, she had provided the scoring pass for one try and crossed for another herself.
Renee Wickliffe also proved that she is still a clinical try-scorer at the age of 35 with a double against the Scots.
There are plenty of options in midfield, too – Amy du Plessis, Stacey Fluhler, Theresa Fitzpatrick, Sylvia Brunt…
Fitzpatrick has been a standout in the past two wins, both scoring and creating tries, and she must be the favourite to start at inside-centre. But who to pick alongside her? It’s not a bad position for Smith to be in!
Tight and tense
Another Saturday in Whangarei, another tight 13-7 match. Last week it was England beating France, this week it was Australia pipping Wales.
Yes, there have been some one-sided contests at this tournament but there are also plenty of tight ones too – and that shows how the women’s game has progressed.
To attract audiences, results also need to be unpredictable; there needs to be an element of the unknown. Let’s hope the gap continues to close.
Sign of the times
There was a team in white that stood out on the bank around the Northland Events Centre. Six men dressed in wedding dresses held up the signs: ‘Go Black Ferns! No longer the bridesmaids of New Zealand Rugby.’ A fitting message.
It was also brilliant to see so many people in the stadium – the most there of the tournament so far with an attendance of 16,571 – and the hope must surely be that there will be a similar crowd for the quarter-finals next weekend.
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