Winger Joanna Grisez scored a try in the first two minutes and added two more late for a hat trick which lifted France to a 39-3 win over Italy Saturday in the first quarterfinal at the Women’s Rugby World Cup at Whangarei, New Zealand.
The final score hid the fact that France went 60 minutes without a try between Grisez’s first and a penalty try which finally relieved some of the pressure Italy had exerted and allowed France to finally stretch its legs in the last quarter.
After the penalty try came an avalanche of four tries in the last quarter which made France’s win one of its most emphatic in its recent matches against its European neighbor.
France had a large surplus of possession for most of the match and an advantage of territory but for a long period through the middle of the match it seemed incapable of finding a way to score against stoic Italian defense.
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The turning point in the match came with the penalty try when Italy infringed at a scrum near its line and Silvia Turani, singled out as the offender, was sent to the sin-bin.
France should have scored in the 45th minute when they had a three-player overlap but cut back inside. It also should have scored two minutes later but Charlotte Escudero dropped the ball over the line. France seemed fated to be denied by the Italy defense and relieved on penalties to extend their lead after Grisez’s early try.
But the floodgates opened with the penalty try and France will be formidable in the semifinals, especially on the basis of its defensive performance. It has conceded just 21 points in four games at the tournament so far.
“We are so happy to play a semifinal next week,” France captain Gabrielle Vernier said. “I’m so proud of the girls. It’s been a tough few weeks and today we proved when are one of the best teams. It’s a dream come true and I hope for the best for the team.”
Italy was playing in its first World Cup quarterfinal and may use its experience in New Zealand as a springboard to better things.
“We are happy to be here and to get to the quarterfinal but we need to start from this and improve in the next year and maybe in the next World Cup and get to the semifinal,” captain Elisa Giordano said.
New Zealand tops Wales, 55-3
New Zealand steamrolled its way into the semifinals with a 55-3 win over Wales.
Winger Portia Woodman scored a try in each half to become the leading try-scorer from any nation in women’s World Cups and hooker Luka Connor produced a second half double as New Zealand won by nine tries to nil.
New Zealand beat Wales 57-0 in its final group match a week ago and Saturday’s win had echoes of that. But it also produced a much stronger performance at set pieces, especially at scrums, which will be vital as it goes on to the final four.
“It’s an extreme privilege (to make the semifinals),” New Zealand captain Kennedy Simon said. “It’s a huge legacy which we are trying to uphold and enhance so to get through to the next phase of the campaign is pretty awesome.”
New Zealand has won the World Cup on five occasions.
Wales had few scoring chances Saturday and those it had were quickly shut down by the New Zealand defense. New Zealand was physical in the tackle and its work at the breakdowns was outstanding. Its counter-rucking was one of the features of the match and prevented Wales producing any continuity.
New Zealand had plenty. Woodman scored its first try in the 11th minute and it had three more by halftime when it led 26-3. Head coach Wayne Smith had a difficult task in deciding on his starting 15 for the first knockout round and he would have been happy with the combination his preferred lineup showed.
The New Zealand support play was almost instinctive, allowing it to build a layered attack.
Wales lacked New Zealand’s experience at the top level and was pleased to make the last eight of a World Cup.
“We’ve just become professional so this is just the start and we’re really excited for the future,” Wales captain Siwan Lillicrap said.
On Sunday, England is scheduled to play Australia, and Canada will take on the United States.