New Zealand stole the show on day two of Women's Rugby World Cup 2017 on Sunday with a 121-0 defeat of Hong Kong with winger Portia Woodman scoring eight tries, although Japan came close to upstaging them after giving hosts Ireland an almighty scare before slipping to a 24-14 defeat.
Ireland scored 24 unanswered points in the second half to avoid suffering the biggest shock in WRWC history, only four days after they had to battle to overcome Australia 19-17, and now face a Pool C showdown with France, who impressively beat the Wallaroos 48-0.
In the day's other matches Canada had to dig deep to beat Wales 15-0, USA powered past Spain 43-0 and defending champions England overcame Italy 56-13 to stay top of Pool B.
The action continues on Thursday when the pool stages draw to a climax, starting with the mouth-watering Pool A decider between Canada and New Zealand at 12:00 local time (GMT+1) at Billings Park. Defending champions England then meet USA in the Pool B decider before Australia tackle Japan in Pool C. Over at UCD Bowl, the remaining Pool B match between Italy and Spain kicks off proceedings, followed by Wales v Hong Kong in Pool A and finally the Pool C decider between France and hosts Ireland.
The three pool winners and best runner-up will progress to the semi-finals in Belfast on 22 August with the other teams playing off for places from fifth to 12th.
POOL A: NEW ZEALAND 121-0 HONG KONG
Portia Woodman was the star of the show, running in eight of New Zealand's 19 tries as their physicality and pace proved too much for a spirited Hong Kong in the day's opening match at Billings Park.
The four-time champions had started slowly against Wales on day one, but they took just 52 seconds to open the scoring against Hong Kong with winger Carla Hohepa shrugging off a tackle to run in from 30 metres.
A sublime cross-field kick from fly-half Victoria Subritsky-Nafatali fell into the arms of Portia Woodman for New Zealand's second and the sevens star looked to have a second in the 10th minute only for Hong Kong scrum-half Jessica Ho to dislodge the ball in a tackle in the in-goal area. The third try wasn't long coming, though, as the ball came out the side of the resulting scrum and Kendra Cocksedge pounced to gather and score. The bonus point was safely in the bag inside 16 minutes after number eight Charmaine McMenamin crashed over.
Hong Kong, though, did enjoy some periods of possession and time in New Zealand's half but were unable to make the breakthrough and instead it was the Black Ferns who continued to rack up the points with tries from Woodman and centres Chelsea Alley and Theresa Fitzpatrick, the latter being given an easy run in after her fellow Olympic silver medallist Woodman ran onto a kick-through from Subritsky-Nafatali and drew the last defender to make it 45-0 with only 29 minutes on the clock.
New Zealand crossed for two more tries in the dying minutes of the first half as full-back Hazel Tubic made the most of an overlap to dot down after captain Faamausili had been ruled held up on the other side of the pitch, and then Fitzpatrick claimed her second to make it 57-0 at half-time. Despite the one-sided scoreline, Hong Kong had enjoyed plenty of time on the ball, but sitting so deep the New Zealand defence was upon them before they could move the ball wide.
The second half was only 29 seconds old when the Black Ferns crossed for their 10th try, some good offloading in the tackle resulting in prop Sosoli Talawadua crashing over the line, Cocksedge adding her seventh conversion of the day. Hong Kong continued to enjoy some possession, far more than on day one against Canada, with centre Natasha Olson-Thorne and Chong Ka Yan making some good breaks that ultimately came to nothing.
Woodman then added her third and fourth tries before the hour mark before replacement Kelly Brazier left her mark on the match, first stepping her way through the defence to run in from halfway and then putting through a perfectly-weighted kick for fellow replacement Stacey Waaka to run onto the ball and nudge it ahead before gathering to dive over the line. Woodman wasn't finished there, though, matching the five tries Magali Harvey scored for Canada against Hong Kong after beating two defenders and standing up a third to score under the posts.
The winger would add another three tries before the final whistle, running them in from deep in a match which saw her make 350 metres – almost a third of New Zealand's total – and come within one of the Black Ferns' record of tries in a single match, set by Vanessa Cootes against France in 1996. There was one further try sandwiched between Woodman's sixth and seventh tries with flanker Les Ketu finishing off a good passing move to get her name on the scoreboard as the Black Ferns scored a century of points for the third time in WRWC history and fourth overall.
New Zealand coach Glenn Moore: “We needed the points, we needed to not give any away and we’ve used the bulk of the squad now, so I’m happy with that. We told the players that we wanted them to chance their arm and because of that we spilled a few balls, but some of those that stuck, we turned them into good tries. Portia’s just class. She goes looking for work, and when the ball comes her way, she knows how to finish. We move on now and look forward to Canada.”
New Zealand winger Portia Woodman: “Look, it was awesome and the forwards did so much great work that it was easy for me to finish it off. No, I’ve never scored eight tries in a game before. After half-time, we tried to spread it a bit more and the chances started to pop up. Our focus was to get points on the board, so that was pretty much our game plan and obviously we gave Hong Kong the respect they deserve. They’re a tough side and they kept fighting throughout.”
Hong Kong coach Jo Hull: “We enjoyed it even though it was hard in the face of their physicality. We were able to hold the ball for three or four phases, but then they would force the error. We know that when we have the ball we need to look after it. The crowd were with us again and that’s given us so much encouragement and energy.”
POOL A: CANADA 15-0 WALES
Canada marked captain Kelly Russell's 50th test with a hard-fought victory over a Welsh side that played their hearts out and were unlucky not to get something from the match at Billings Park.
Wales started the better of the two sides, showing the same passion and determination as they had against New Zealand on day one. The Welsh spent long periods in the Canadian half and were not afraid to throw the ball around and use the width of the pitch, but couldn't find a way through.
With 22 minutes on the clock and the game still scoreless, Russell took advantage of a break in play to bring her team into a huddle and whatever she said clearly had the desired effect as when play resumed flanker Karen Paquin charged up field deep into Welsh territory to galvanise Canada.
Within minutes Canada had broken the deadlock, a strong cleanout by Russell giving Lori Josephson quick ball and the scrum-half ran across and then darted through as the Welsh defence opened up in front of her. Harvey added the conversion but they were unable to add to that score so went in leading 7-0 at half-time.
Canada thought they had unlocked the defence again within three minutes of the restart but they were ruled short of the line and Wales earned a penalty for a Canadian playing the ball on the ground.
The frustration continued to build for Canada the longer the score remained at 7-0, the fluidity that had been clear for all to see against Hong Kong on day one simply not there as they tried to force things and several attacking opportunities came to nothing.
Wales were defending for their lives and they managed to hold up Latoya Blackwood over the line. Canada centre Alex Tessier then had a try chalked off after second-row Blackwood knocked on at the previous ruck as heroic defence from Wales continued to keep the WRWC 2014 runners-up at bay.
Full-back Julianne Zussman was sin-binned in the 64th minute for a stamp to the body and she was quickly joined by Wales captain Carys Phillips for hands in the ruck to even the teams again. Still Canada couldn't find a way through and elected to take a kick at goal, Magali Harvey making it a two-score game with her successful penalty.
Harvey attempted a second penalty with seven minutes to go but it fell short as the wind picked up. The winger finally got the space to run at the Welsh defence with time up on the clock, sprinting down the line to score Canada's second try.
Canada captain Kelly Russell: “We knew that Wales would come out hard and that’s exactly what they did. We have to tighten up on the little things like unnecessary knock-ons and we’ve got to improve our focus. It was a battle out there, we needed a tough game, we got that and it was great to win. Now we’ll turn our attention to New Zealand and we know we’ll have to step it up. They have great skills across the board and so do we, so it’s just about who’s going to perform on the day.”
Wales number eight Sioned Harries: “That was a really tough game and for me the only difference between us was execution when it mattered. But playing against one of the top four teams in the world and coming away with that scoreline, we can only be proud of ourselves. We had a disappointing Six Nations to say the least and then that defeat by New Zealand, so we can definitely take confidence from this performance. We had a losing bonus point in our sights and it was a bit of a shame that it crept away from us in the dying minutes. But overall, we defended incredibly well and we certainly won’t be taking our foot off the pedal when we come up against Hong Kong.”
POOL B: ENGLAND 56-13 ITALY
England were made to work hard for their vicotry by Italy in the second match at Billings Park.
The defending champions began brightly with winger Amy Wilson-Hardy being held up and then failing to gather a low pass with the line at her mercy in the opening six minutes, but England fans didn't have long to wait for a try with captain Emily Scarratt finishing off a move that had begun with the quick footwork of full-back Danielle Waterman.
England's lead had grown to 12-0 by the 15th minute when Wilson-Hardy made the break and the ball was quickly recycled for flanker Alex Matthews to go through a gap in the line. However, Italy then fought back with fly-half Veronica Schiavon – who played in Italy's last WRWC appearance in 2002 – kicking the first penalty of Ireland 2017 before a lovely flowing move saw winger Maria Magatti go over in the corner to cut the deficit to four points with 24 minutes gone.
The Red Roses responded with a third try through winger Lydia Thompson and thought they had another as half-time approached when Scarratt reached for the line, only to lose the ball as she went to ground it. The bonus point would come before the break after Marlie Packer charged through the defence, being stopped just short with the ball coming back to hooker Amy Cokayne for an easy run-in to make it 22-8 at half-time.
Two tries in three minutes increased that cushion to 34-8 with just over 30 minutes to play, another Packer break leading to a try for second-row Tamara Taylor before some slick passing put Scarratt through a gap for her second of the match. But if England thought they had broken the Azzurre resolve they were wrong as the Italians went through the phases before number eight Elisa Giordano picked up and dived over the line for their second try.
England, who had beaten Italy 29-15 in the Six Nations earlier this year, responded with a try for Waterman, the full-back twisting her way through the defence and rolling over to ground the ball, but once again Scarratt was unable to add the conversion on an off-day with the boot. Waterman, one of four players in England's starting line-up playing in their fourth World Cup, grabbed her second just past the hour after selling a dummy and coasting round under the posts.
With reinforcements coming off the bench, England finished the match strongly to take their unbeaten run to 11 matches, scoring two further tries through Thompson and Wilson-Hardy to set up a Pool B decider with USA on Thursday.
England full-back Danielle Waterman: “The bench made a big impact today and everybody’s had game time, so with two wins we’re in a great place as a squad. We certainly have quite a few things to put right but we’re looking forward to taking it to the USA. They’re unbelievable athletes, they’ve got a lot of power up front and pace behind from their sevens players. It’ll be a different challenge but it’s one we’ll be ready for.”
England coach Simon Middleton: “The Italians are always difficult opponents and we dealt with them well, so that was a great result for us. The fact that we’ve got such strength in depth in our squad makes it easier to give everyone a run, and now it’s a case of making sure we’ve got the right combinations. We do have a kicking game which could well be important the further we progress in the tournament but we want to play with ball in hand. The USA will be a more direct and a more physical challenge, they have some dangerous players and we’ll have to be astute. It’s a winner-takes-all game and it could well come down to whoever holds their never best.”
Italy replacement back-row Silvia Gaudino: “We made some mistakes out there and consequently England had plenty of opportunities to score. We have made progress on our defence since the game against the USA and so overall this was a better performance. This is a fantastic experience for us but the World Cup is a very demanding tournament and we’ve now played two highly physical matches. If we don’t have injuries, we can continue improving and we’ll be positive when we play Spain.”
POOL B: USA 43-0 SPAIN
USA enjoyed a convincing bonus point win over Spain at UCD Bowl to set up the expected Pool B decider with England on Thursday.
Comfortable with ball in hand from one to 23, the inaugural World Cup winners showed real attacking intent and a terrific second-half performance yielded 31 points and five tries – three of them inside a clinical 11-minute spell.
Winger Naya Tapper showed the finishing skills that have made her such a hit on the HSBC World Rugby Women’s Sevens Series in 2016-17 with a brace of tries, while Aon Player of the Match Jordan Gray, dangerous full-back Cheta Emba and replacements Jessica Javelet and Hope Rogers added their names to the scoresheet. Referee Claire Hodnett also awarded the Women's Eagles a penalty try and strong-running centre Alev Kelter kicked six points as well as having a hand in three tries.
Tapper’s first came after seven minutes of sustained USA pressure, the winger giving an early demonstration of her strength with a powerful hand-off on opposite number, Amaia Erbina. Nearly half an hour had passed before the USA struck again, number eight Gray touching down from close range after her strong run from the base of a scrum instigated a breakout from deep.
Sara Parsons’ big tackles in midfield had been a feature of the half, but beleaguered Spain were given a boost on the stroke of half-time when the flanker was sent to the sin-bin after she failed to retreat 10.
Two poorly executed lineouts saw Spain spurn good attacking positions at the start of the second half, and Emba made them pay when she profited from Kelter’s offload moments after the USA had been restored to their full complement of players.
Four minutes later, Tapper shrugged off the attention of three tacklers and was then driven over the line by Kelter after eventually being stopped just short. USA went 31-0 up at the start of the fourth quarter when Spain illegally collapsed a driving maul and conceded a penalty try, the first seven-point penalty try in WRWC history.
Oozing confidence, the Women’s Eagles continued to take the game to their overrun opponents and late tries from Javelet, after she pounced on Kelter’s well-weighted grubber kick, and barnstorming prop Rogers saw them rack up a record score against Las Leonas.
USA number eight Jordan Gray: “We feel it’s all coming together now after all our pre-tournament training. We’re starting to click more as a team and we’re looking forward to playing England and we’re confident that we’ve improved since we last played them. We’ll be expecting a greater physicality than we’ve had in our first two games. It’s going to be that little bit faster and they’ll be that little bit stronger, but we’ll be ready.”
Spain prop Jeanina Vinueza: “Obviously, we’re not as big a side as the USA, so that was a hard match for us. We tried to play a fast game, to move their big players around the pitch with the hope of tiring them out, but it didn’t work out in the end. I think England are technically a better all-round team than the USA, so we’ve had two very difficult matches and that will prepare us well for Italy on Thursday.”
POOL C: IRELAND 24-14 JAPAN
Super-sub Paula Fitzpatrick scored twice as hosts Ireland got out of jail for the second time in four days and avoided being on the receiving end of arguably the biggest shock in Women’s Rugby World Cup history.
Japan had threatened to produce an upset every bit as big as their male counterparts at Rugby World Cup 2015 as they led 14-0 at half-time after a penalty try and one from Mayu Shimizu.
But resilient Ireland bounced back, as they did against Australia in round one, with Fitzpatrick and her fellow replacements making a big impact from the bench.
With 17-year-old scrum-half Moe Tsukui firing out lightning-quick passes, the Sakura 15 backs looked dangerous every time they touched the ball but their first score, after a frenetic 25 minutes of high-tempo rugby, came from the outstanding work of the forwards.
The physically smaller Japan pack showed superb technique to shunt the Ireland eight backwards when given the put-in at an attacking scrum and referee Ian Tempest had no hesitation in awarding them a penalty try.
Outside-centre Iroha Nagata nearly latched onto a grubber kick into the in-goal area as Japan continued to look the more dangerous of the two sides, but it wasn’t long before the Asian champions doubled their lead when Shimizu supplied a neat finish from a first phase move and then converted her own try.
Things got worse for Ireland at the start of the second half when a fourth high tackle resulted in a yellow card for Katie Fitzhenry. However, with Ireland now much more effective at the breakdown, Japan were unable to capitalise on their numerical advantage and it was the hosts who scored next through the excellent Alison Miller.
With Japan having had two kicks charged down near their own line, the first by Miller, the pressure was beginning to mount as they defended wave after wave of pick-and-goes. Eventually, Ireland decided to give the ball some air and found Miller, who had come off her wing looking for more work. The hero of Ireland's famous WRWC 2014 win over New Zealand cut back inside the drift defence to dot down to the relief of the partisan crowd with Nora Stapleton adding the conversion.
Japan set about restoring their 14-point cushion but superb breakdown work by tireless captain Claire Molloy and replacement Ailis Egan starved them of the quick ruck ball they enjoyed in the first half.
By now all the momentum was with Ireland and Japan were powerless to stop Fitzpatrick rumbling over from a powerful rolling maul and Stapleton’s second conversion put the hosts back on level terms with 64 minutes gone.
Stapleton then coolly slotted a 72nd-minute penalty to hand Tom Tierney’s side the lead for the first time before Fitzpatrick grabbed her second from close range with the clock in red after the hosts had kept hold of the ball for over 30 phases to deny Japan a deserved losing bonus point.
Ireland coach Tom Tierney: “There are no excuses for our first half performance in particular and we simply didn’t play well. But we won and we’re mightily relieved. There was a lot of pressure on us, so to score 24 points in the second half was a credit to the players. We’ll dust ourselves off and we’ll put a plan in place to go at the French. Next Thursday will be a cup final but we know we have a lot of work to do if we are to be competitive.”
Ireland captain Claire Molloy: “They threw everything at us in the first half and their passing game was excellent and as a result they won the first half. But it was a new game in the second half. We came out and showed great resilience yet again and got the result. The bench really made an impact and galvanised us when we found ourselves in a backs-to-the-wall situation again.”
Japan coach Goshi Arimizu: “It was a better performance than the France game, however, we had prepared well for Ireland and we truly believed we were capable of winning, so the result was a disappointment. In the end, the Irish will to win was greater than ours and we didn’t have the right sort of mental strength to see us through.”
POOL C: FRANCE 48-0 AUSTRALIA
A dynamic France surged to the top of Pool C with winger Shannon Izar scoring a brilliant hat-trick in their emphatic victory over Australia in the final match of the day at UCD Bowl.
The Wallaroos, who had battled so impressively in their opening game against Ireland, struggled to live with Les Bleues, especially during the first half as the French hit top form with an irresistible combination of attacking verve and deadly opportunism.
The pacey Izar scorched through for her three tries in the space of the 25 minutes and a confident France continued to pile the agony on to a subdued Australia with further scores from second-row Audrey Forlani and right-wing Chloé Pelle.
Full-back Montserrat Amedée added two conversions and with captain Elodie Poublan and her side in almost total command it was 29-0 at the break.
Australia had their moments in the second half with winger Nareta Marsters almost getting through, but France kept on coming and after Pelle dived over for her second, openside flanker and Aon Player of the Match Romane Menager effectively killed off the game as a contest with a brillliant solo try from almost 50 metres.
There was still time for more and replacement hooker Gaelle Mignot was on the end of a superbly constructed driving maul for try number eight. Audrey Abadie tagged on a couple of conversions and France had sent out a message that they will pose a serious threat to all the title contenders.
France winger Chloe Pelle: “We really got it right this evening and we were so solid in both attack and defence in the early stages that we able to score a few quick tries. The Australians put it up to us physically, so it was a superb result for us. We knew beforehand that they would push up very fast in defence and that if we were able to get the ball wide, we’d create chances and that’s exactly what happened. We’ll enjoy this victory, but we’ve achieved nothing yet. We’ve got to beat Ireland now and secure that semi-final place.”
Australia hooker Cheyenne Campbell: “Look, we were a bit outplayed. France came hunting, they used the ball well, they executed well and we didn’t take advantage of the chances we had. Our performance level dropped compared to the Ireland game and while we really believed we could give the French a run for their money, it didn’t pan out that way. We’ve got to let it go now, learn from it and play well against Japan.”
Who caught your eye on day two of #WRWC2017? Join the conversation @WorldRugby.