Wales have taken a giant step towards securing qualification for Women’s Rugby World Cup 2014 after they beat Scotland 13-0 and Italy lost 34-0 to England on the penultimate weekend of the RBS Women’s 6 Nations.
With results across the 2012 and 2013 Championships being used to determine the two sides progressing directly to WRWC 2014 – and so avoiding a qualifying tournament in Madrid in April – Wales are now favourites to follow Ireland and take the confirmed teams to eight.
Champions New Zealand, runners-up England, Australia, hosts France, USA and Canada qualified directly as the top six sides from WRWC 2010, while Ireland confirmed their place by beating Scotland a fortnight ago.
Wales or Italy will claim the final place with the side missing out, along with winless Scotland, having another chance to qualify for the showpiece event in the Women’s Game via a six-team tournament next month which will swell the confirmed teams to 10.
Both teams went into the penultimate weekend with six points, Italy ahead by the smallest of margins – just two points – on point differential. However, Wales now have eight points and a +45 point differential as they prepare to host England and Italy welcome newly-crowned champions Ireland.
Wales, who had crucially edged Italy 16-15 a fortnight earlier, had to dig deep in freezing conditions at Scotstoun Stadium in Glasgow on Sunday to beat a Scotland side that has now lost 16 consecutive Women’s 6 Nations matches.
England bounce back
A penalty by Laura Prosser gave Wales a narrow 3-0 half-time lead and the score remained that way until the last 10 minutes when tries from replacement wing Charlie Murray and flanker Sioned Harries sealed the win for Wales.
“It was an excellent win today in horrendous conditions. The girls stayed composed and finished the job at hand,” said Wales head coach Rhys Edwards.
“To be fair to Scotland they played really well in the first half while our decision making was appalling. We made a few changes at half-time and steadied the ship in the second half and showed a lot more composure. It just goes to show the value of the match day 23 as every player ensured it was a squad effort to get the win.”
England bounced back to winning ways with a dominant performance against Italy, their hopes of an eighth successive title having already ended after suffering back-to-back defeats by Ireland and France.
Captain Sarah Hunter and Jo McGilchrist both marked their 50th caps for England with tries in the first half, which ended with the home side leading 29-0 after further scores for Sally Tuson and Roz Crowley (2) and the boot of Amber Reed.
England continued to enjoy the majority of possession and territory in the second half but were able to add just one more try through replacement Emily Scott in the 69th minute. The result means England are one of four teams on four points behind Ireland.
Ireland confirmed as champions
Italy’s defeat meant that Ireland were confirmed as champions for the first time in their history, their hard-fought 15-10 victory over France the day before having all but guaranteed another piece of history for the girls in green.
Ireland had already beaten England for the first time (25-0 in round two) and secured a first Triple Crown, but the win over France means they are within touching distance of a first Grand Slam with only Italy standing in their way.
The two sides will lock horns at the Stadio Rino Venegoni in Parabiago on Sunday and Ireland’s women will be eager to mark St Patrick’s Day in style, having already become the first non France or England champions since 1998.
Ireland, with the country’s president Michael D Higgins among a crowd of more than 3,000 at a foggy and damp Ashbourne RFC, had to do it the hard way against France with the visitors making the most of the wind at their backs to lead 10-5 at half time.
Sandrine Agricole kicked France into an early lead but Ireland defended for their lives and were rewarded when full back Niamh Briggs finished off a fast, flowing attack to the delight of the crowd. France, though, hit back when hooker Gaëlle Mignot scored out wide following a strong maul.
Ireland, turning around with the wind behind them, enjoyed more possession after the break and hit the front again when prop Ailis Egan grounded the ball after a well-executed maul. France hung in there but Briggs made certain of victory when she kicked a late penalty.