Tokyo Olympics

Rugby World Cup: France, host New Zealand secure spots in semifinals

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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.

RUGBY WORLD CUP: How to watch, TV and streaming schedule, highlights and results

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 cashed in immediately on its numerical advantage with a try to Laure Touye, then Grisez touched down in the 68th and 70th minutes to complete a rare World Cup triple and make France’s win conclusive and impressive.

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.

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Justine Wong-Orantes’ atypical path to becoming one of the best liberos in the world

Justine Wong-Orantes hits the ball in the women's semi-final volleyball match between USA and Serbia during the Tokyo 2020 Olympics.
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It’s been 20 years since the same nation held both the Olympic and world volleyball titles at the same time, but libero Justine Wong-Orantes is looking to help lead Team USA accomplish that very feat at the 2022 FIVB Volleyball Women’s World Championships in the Netherlands and Poland. Competition began on Friday and the U.S. is currently 2-0 after group play wins against Kazakhstan and Canada.

“We’re trying to win, for sure,” Wong-Orantes told On Her Turf. “I think, especially with the new turn of the program and the new year of the quad, we just have a really nice blend of veterans and also newcomers on the team.”

The 14-woman roster for Team USA, which is ranked No. 1 in the world and won its first Olympic title last summer, features six players from that gold-medal-winning team. And while Wong-Orantes is among the 2021 U.S. Olympic team veterans, she’s still a relative newcomer to international play.

The Southern California native enjoyed a notable junior career – she was 12 when she became the youngest female to ever earn an AAA rating in beach volleyball – and was a standout collegian at Nebraska, where she was a member of the 2015 NCAA championship team. But Wong-Orantes followed a different path upon graduation, initially choosing not to go overseas to play professionally.

While she was first selected for the U.S. national team in 2016 and played a handful of international tournaments in the following years, it wasn’t until she started playing professionally in Germany in 2019 that she saw the potential to elevate her position on the roster. In particular, the pandemic-delayed Tokyo Olympics gave her an additional year of overseas experience, which she calls “a blessing in disguise.”

“I just felt like I was still in that developmental stage,” she said. “And a whole year postponement allowed me to go overseas and really get all the touches, all the repetitions, and just kind of expose myself to international volleyball another year. So I was, in hindsight, pretty thankful for that COVID season because I got an extra year under my belt, and I think that just gave me a ton of confidence.”

Ahead of the Olympics, Wong-Orantes earned “best libero” honors at the 2021 FIVB Volleyball National League in Rimini, Italy, which helped secure her spot on the Olympic roster. In Tokyo, she followed up with another standout performance and was named best libero of the Olympic tournament.

As to how the Wong-Orantes transformed into one of the world’s top liberos, she points to her background as a beach volleyball player. She began competing at age 8, and her first partner was Sara Hughes, a star on the AVP Pro Tour who also won two NCAA titles with USC.

“I think having that background and just the court awareness that beach volleyball forces you to have allowed me to really have a good read on the game,” said Wong-Orantes. “I think that’s what makes a great libero is just reading and always being reactive towards the ball.”

Wong-Orantes also credits the assistance of mental coach Sue Enquist, a former UCLA softball coach and U.S. national team coach, who now helps teams work on their culture and relationships. Enquist began working with the U.S. volleyball team during the pandemic and has continued in her role ever since.

“We just worked on a lot of stuff within ourselves, within our program, how to communicate with each other off the court, and I think that honestly propelled us into such a high, high level with how we worked with each other, and then that transferred onto the court,” explained Wong-Orantes, who noted the team has Enquist on speed dial while at the World Championship. “I really commend Sue. I just really give a lot of praise to her because I think our culture was never bad, but I think [she] just transformed into a different level.”

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ARNHEM, NETHERLANDS – Justine Wong-Orantes (far right) poses for a photo with her U.S. teammates after defeating Canada at the 2022 FIVB Volleyball Women’s World Championship on September 26, 2022. (Photo by Rene Nijhuis/Orange Pictures/BSR Agency/Getty Images)

Wong-Orantes said she and her U.S. teammates are on their toes for the world championships, which features twice as many teams (24) as the Olympics and a “more grueling” format.

“It’s going to be a long tournament, and I think we’re really going to need all 14 of us that are here. I’m pretty certain that, at any given moment, someone’s going to be called on and someone’s going to need to step up in big moments.”

Snowboarding tiger roars in big air qualifying, despite finishing last

Snowboard - Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics Day 10
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France’s Lucile Lefevre didn’t have any intentions of concluding her snowboarding career in a tiger costume, but after injuring her knee in slopestyle at the 2022 Winter Olympics, the 26-year-old snowboarder knew she wanted to go out with a roar.

Wearing a fluffy tiger costume – complete with a striped tail – Lefevre launched herself off of the ramp for all three runs of women’s big air qualifying. She didn’t attempt any major tricks, apart from a mid-air wave.

“I decided to just say hi to the judge,” Lefevre joked.

Video of snowboarder Lucile Lefevre competing in a tiger onesie at the 2022 Winter Olympics:

The French snowboarder finished 29th overall, last of all of the starters. In the finish area, she clawed and growled at the camera, before going for a more friendly wave.

Lefevre borrowed the tiger costume from Swiss athlete Nicolas Huber. “I asked if he would give it to me for this day,” she explained. “It’s for tiger (Chinese) new year, so everyone wants a picture with me.”

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Nicolas Huber of Switzerland wears the tiger costume while watching snowboard parallel giant slalom at Genting Snow Park on Feb. 8, 2022. (Photo by Xu Chang/Xinhua via Getty Images)

Lefevre hopes the tiger costume spreads a message of fun.

“There are a lot of problems in the world. If everyone was peace and easy, the world would be better for sure, that’s the message I want to share.”

Lefevre, who made her Olympic debut in 2018, said the Beijing Games were the final competition of her snowboarding career. As for what she will do now, she plans to help her dad run his sailing school.

“And I will maybe train some baby snowboarders.”

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Follow Alex Azzi on Twitter @AlexAzziNBC