Women's Rugby World Cup 2017 got off to a flying start with 63 tries scored across the six matches in Dublin on Wednesday.
Defending champions England kicked off the tournament with a 56-5 defeat of Spain at UCD Bowl, but their fellow title contenders Canada, New Zealand and France were equally impressive in overcoming debutants Hong Kong (98-0), Wales (44-12) and Japan (72-14) respectively over at Billings Park.
USA battled past an Italian side making their first World Cup appearance for 15 years 24-12, while hosts Ireland were involved in the closest match of the day as they sneaked past Australia 19-17 to the delight of the home supporters packed into UCD Bowl.
The action continues on Sunday with New Zealand and Hong Kong kicking off proceedings at 12:00 local time at Billings Park, followed by England v Italy in Pool B and the remaining Pool A match between Canada and Wales. USA and Spain get play underway at 14:45 in UCD Bowl with the Pool A matches, Ireland v Japan and France v Australia, closing out the day.
POOL A: NEW ZEALAND 44-12 WALES
New Zealand took time to click into gear against a passionate Welsh side but when they did it was their back three of Renee Wickliffe, Selica Winiata and Portia Woodman that did the damage with their pace and running lines.
Wales, beaten 63-7 when the teams last met at WRWC 2014, started positively and frustrated the Black Ferns in the early exchanges until the breakthrough came in the eighth minute. Keira Bevan failed to find touch with her clearance kick and the New Zealand back three pounced, sevens star Woodman taking on three defenders before slipping full-back Winiata in for the opening try.
Elen Evans thwarted another attack minutes later by diving on a kick through and the Welsh continued to play with passion and determination despite having very little of the ball and being stuck in thier own half. The New Zealand lineout was not functioning well with captain Fiao'o Faamausili penalised repeatedly for not-straight throw-ins, making it difficult for the four-time champions to get their game going.
It was their linespeed on defence that set up their second try, a great tackle from Renee Wickliffe giving her side the opportunity to turnover ball and spread it quickly along the line for centre Stacey Waaka to go over in the corner in the 22nd minute. That score sparked a period of Welsh pressure and they spent five minutes camped in the Black Ferns' 22 but couldn't find a way over the line.
That failure was compounded when New Zealand scored two tries in quick succession through winger Wickliffe to lead 20-0 at half-time. Faamausili broke from a maul and Waaka straightened through a hole in the defence with quick hands releasing the winger. Wickliffe then read a Welsh pass perfectly to intercept and sprint 70 metres to score despite a desperate chase from Jasmine Joyce.
The score remained that way until a piece of magic from WRWC 2010 winner Kelly Brazier, the centre pouncing when a Welsh pass went astray to kick on and then nudge on so it bounced up perfectly into her arms before she had the composure to loop the ball to Portia Woodman for the winger to race in for try number five in the 51st minute.
Second-row Eloise Blackwell then decided it was time for the New Zealand forwards to get on the scoreboard with an effort from close range, but Wales then gave their fans in the crowd something to cheer about when number eight Sioned Harries won the lineout ball and then finished off the move.
A great solo try from Winiata followed before New Zealand lost scrum-half Kendra Cocksedge to the sin-bin, Wales taking advantage immediately with second-row Melissa Clay going over from the resulting line-up. Winiata then completed her hat-trick with seven minutes to go and the Black Ferns looked to have a ninth try at the death but replacement prop Katie Mata'u lost the ball over the line.
New Zealand captain Fiao'o Faamausili: "We are pretty pleased but we had a slow start. Coming to Ireland we had huge expectations but we started really slowly. Credit to Wales, they really gave it to us in that first 20 minutes, but I'm really pleased with how we pushed through that. We have to go back and look at what went wrong (with the set piece). Practice makes perfect and we have a few more games to keep pushing on."
Wales captain Carys Phillips: "The score was definitely no reflection on the match. We put our hearts on the field today and most of their tries came from our mistakes. I think we need to be more accurate with our play. I am proud of every single one of the girls for how they played and there is a lot we can take away from this game and be really proud of. We definitely need to improve our accuracy and be more clinical when we have got the ball, but our set piece is phenomenal and I think we can score against any team with that."
POOL A: CANADA 98-0 HONG KONG
Canada signalled their intentions to go one better than three years ago with a record 16-try defeat of Women's Rugby World Cup debutants Hong Kong at Billings Park, surpassing their previous highest score of 79 against Scotland in 2006.
Hong Kong battled bravely from start to finish against a side ranked 20 places above them in the World Rugby Women's Rankings, but had no answer to the power and pace of the Canadians, who scored a number of their tries from inside their own half.
Canada winger Magali Harvey, one of the stars of WRWC 2014, put her name at the top of the points and try-scoring charts with five tries – three of them in the first half – amid a 41-point haul, showcasing both her electric pace and sublime footwork in a performance that saw her named Aon Player of the Match.
Centre Andrea Burk opened the scoring in the fifth minute and Canada had the bonus point in the bag by the time the clock reached 21 minutes after Elissa Alarie, Harvey and captain Kelly Russell dotted down. Harvey then completed her hat-trick either side of second tries for Russell and Burk to give Canada a 46-0 lead at half-time in .
Prop DaLeaka Menin had a barnstorming first half, carrying for more than 110 metres, before she was replaced early in the second. By that time Canada had added two further tries through Alarie and replacement Amanda Thornborough. Centre Alex Tessier then added another before each side lost a player to the sin-bin in winger Chong Ka Yan and Canada replacement Olivia DeMerchant.
Harvey, replacement Brittany Waters, Kelly Russell, completing the number eight's own hat-trick, and Thornborough crossed to inch closer to a century of points. Harvey fittingly scored Canada's 16th and final try, but Brianna Miller couldn't add the conversion from out wide with the final act of the game.
Canada captain Kelly Russell: "Keeping the continuity is something we've really been focusing on and it was a great job by the girls to keep that going. Credit to Hong Kong, they were really good in the ruck and gave it to us a couple of times in there and that is something we are going to have to clean up. It is important to get all the girls out there on the pitch, we want them to come on and bring it when they step on and I'm really proud of the team and the effort they put in. Across the board anyone of the girls could be in the starting line-up, it's just starters and finishers."
Hong Kong captain Chow Mei Nam: "It was a very exciting game and the first time here (in a World Cup), it is very good to be here. I told my team-mates to play with their hearts, play tough and enjoy the first match. We are enjoying it, everyone loved this game. We will study up and try to improve for next time."
POOL B: ENGLAND 56-5 SPAIN
England got the defence of their title off to an impressive start at the UCD Bowl with a convincing 10-try victory over Spain.
The favourites to top Pool B had the bonus point secured before the interval thanks in the main to a hat-trick of tries by left winger Kay Wilson, which followed an early touchdown by centre Megan Jones as the Red Roses poured forward with fly-half Katy Mclean cleverly orchestrating the attacks.
However, the scoreboard probably flattered England, particularly in the first half as Spain performed superbly in defence with stand-out displays from flanker Paula Medin and second-row Maria Ribera, while full-back Barbara Pla, who unfortunately had to be replaced due to injury, and winger Iera Echebarria also caught the eye with some strong tackling.
The tenacious Spaniards had their reward with a breakaway try in the 36th minute finished off by flanker Diana Gasso, but in the end England, for whom prop Rochelle Clark and centre Emily Scarratt made their 125th and 70th appearances respectively, simply had too much power and organisation.
Going into the second half with a 24-5 lead, the Red Roses were in dominant form as Scarratt, the charging second-row Harriet Millar-Mills, replacements Alex Matthews and Amy Cokayne and winger Lydia Thompson all crossed the whitewash while the speedster Wilson added her fourth of the match.
England captain Sarah Hunter: “It was certainly nice to get 10 tries along the way, but we’ll certainly be looking at areas where we can improve. The score probably doesn’t reflect how physical and how tough it was out there. Spain were very competitive right from the beginning and they played right until the end. It was certainly a contest regardless of what the score might show.”
Spain fly half Patricia Garcia: “We fought the whole way against the current world champions and one of the favourites to win the title again. In defence, we worked really hard and we know we have to improve in some areas, but this performance certainly gives us some confidence for the remaining matches.”
POOL B: USA 24-12 ITALY
A physical USA powered to a 24-12 success over Italy at the UCD Bowl on Wednesday, picking up a bonus point on the way.
The winners of the inaugural Women's Rugby World Cup in 1991 were fastest out of the blocks when a sweeping attack from inside their own half was finished off in style by left winger Kris Thomas within two minutes.
Fly-half Kimber Rozier added the extras and the Italians were on the back foot again as flying winger Naya Tapper, as well as the powerful forward duo of number eight Jordan Gray and Aon Player of the Match Sara Parsons made regular inroads.
It wasn’t a surprise when the Women's Eagles' pressure paved the way for a second try when the impressive Rozier sliced through the cover defence for a well-taken score which she failed to convert.
But the Italians, playing in their first World Cup since 2002, had threatened with some classy play from centre Maria Grazia Cioffi and full-back, Manuel Furlan, and when at last they engineered field position, they made it count.
A surging forward drive saw hooker Lucia Cammarano get the touchdown and fly-half Veronica Schiavon, landed an excellent conversion to reduce the deficit to 12-7. Unfortunately, Cammarano’s celebrations were short-lived as she suffered a fractured leg and, after lengthy treatment, was replaced by Lucia Gai.
USA dominated possession in the second half and the victory was sealed with a second try from Thomas after strong approach work by replacement centre Alev Kelter, before another replacement Abby Gustaitis stormed over to secure the bonus point. A persistent Italy had the final say with a try in the closing minutes from back-row Elisa Giordano.
USA full-back Cheta Emba: “That’s a first step for us and of course there are a few things we need to do better. Everybody’s hungry in this tournament and we respect Italy, so we’ll take some confidence from this.”
Italy coach Andrea di Giandomenico: “We’re a little bit disappointed with the result, but overall it was a good performance. Our backs need quick ball and we struggled to get that because the USA dominated the breakdown with their physicality.”
POOL C: IRELAND 19-17 AUSTRALIA
A great occasion, a great match, heroic performances by both teams, and in the end a packed UCD Bowl saw Ireland edge out Australia in what was a titanic Pool C confrontation played out in front of Irish President Michael D Higgins.
There were three tries apiece as a dramatic contest swayed back and forward. At one point, the defiant Wallaroos looked like they would triumph, but at the death, it was the Irish who just about deserved their victory.
A tension-packed first half saw Australia edge the territorial battle and the Irish defence had to be at its best to stave off the twin threat of centre Sharni Williams and winger Nareta Marsters.
Once Ireland settled, the forwards began to take charge and after a soaring Marie Louise Reilly lineout take, and a series of punishing drives, scrum-half Larissa Muldoon plunged over from short range.
Nora Stapleton tapped over the conversion, but the lead was short-lived. Once again it was Williams and Masters who threatened, and following a quickly taken lineout, winger Mahalia Murphy scorched over to reduce the deficit to 7-5.
If anything, the temperature rose after the interval as replacements Sophie Spence and Ciara Griffin (main picture) scored tries for Ireland while captain Shannon Parry and Hilisha Samoa replied for Australia who had to be content with a losing bonus point.
Ireland coach Tom Tierney: “We’re very, very pleased that we got the result. We have to recover now ahead of Japan on Sunday. It was a bruising encounter, the Aussies are massively physical. They put us under pressure at the ruck area and we’ve definitely got to work on that.”
Australia captain Shannon Parry: “That was a very tight, physical encounter played in an incredible atmosphere. We left those two points out there but we can build from that. It basically came down to execution, being able to take those crucial chances and we fell a little bit short this time.”
POOL A: FRANCE 72-14 JAPAN
France took themselves to the top of Pool C with a 12-try defeat of Japan in the day's final match at Billings Park.
The 2014 bronze medallists had the bonus point wrapped up inside 16 minutes against the Sakura 15, flanker Romane Menager scoring a great solo try in the opening minute before winger Elodie Guiglion dotted down and prop Annaelle Deshayes was driven over by her fellow forwards as the clock reached 13 minutes.
A piece of brilliance from Caroline Ladagnous saw the outside centre burst through the defence to give France a 22-0 lead, but their charge was temporarily halted when they lost second-row Celine Ferrer to the sin-bin. In her absence, Japan did something they had never done before, scored a try in what is their third meeting with France.
Number eight Mateitoga Bogidraumainadave had been a headache for France throughout the first half and her powerful running was rewarded when she came off the back of a scrum and beat three players to go over under the posts to the delight of her team-mates.
France, though, had one more try in them before the break with second-row Lenaig Corson making a powerful break, shrugging off a couple of tackles and sending winger Caroline Boujard over to make it 29-0 at half-time. Bogidraumainadave was forced off within minutes of the restart and Japan never really recovered from the blow as Elodie Guiglion quickly grabbed her second try.
Les Bleues kept the pressure on Japan and the tries continued to flow with regularity, Aon Player of the Match Ladagnous compelting her hat-trick amid scores for prop Deshayes and replacement Montserrat Amedee, the latter marking her debut with a try on the hour mark.
France lost their replacement scrum-half Audrey Abadie to the sin-bin for a deliberate knockdown shortly after, but Japan quickly lost their player advantage when centre Makiko Tomita was sent off by referee Graham Cooper with 13 minutes to go.
A great solo burst from Menager was rewarded with a try and replacement Marjorie Mayans took France through the 70-point barrier but Japan finished strongly, scoring a try through replacement Yumeno Noda.
France captain Gaelle Mignot: "We are of course happy to start the competition like this and now we must focus on Australia. From the beginning to the end we were very together and we're happy to have a complete game like this. We are really happy but we have things to work on."
Japan captain Seina Saito: "This is our first World Cup match (since 2002) and despite all our preparation work we couldn't do well for this match. We can take confidence from scoring these two tries against France because it shows we can score tries against good teams."