AUCKLAND, New Zealand (AP) — Defending champion New Zealand, third-ranked Canada and top-ranked England all have finished with unbeaten records in the group stage of the Women’s Rugby World Cup to take the top three seedings in the knockout rounds.
Host New Zealand is top seed after posting bonus point wins over Australia, Wales and Scotland in Group A.
Canada will be second seed after completing its group matches Sunday with a 29-14 win over the United States. England beat South Africa 75-0 in the last match of the group stage to finish with three wins in Group C and with third seeding.
New Zealand will play Wales and Canada the United States; England will face Australia and France will take on Italy in the quarterfinals.
England 75, South Africa 0
Top-ranked England muscled its way into the quarterfinals of the Women’s Rugby World Cup with a 75-0 win over South Africa Sunday which stretched its record winning streak to 28 test matches.
England finished atop Group C with an unbeaten record after wins over Fiji, France and South Africa. Its 13-7 win over France from which it failed to take a bonus point cost it a higher seeding but was still one of the loudest statements of form in the group stage.
No-one would accuse England of playing attractive rugby: it is physically and brutally efficient. Teams that play with more flair will be warned that in the knockout rounds England’s pared-down approach, its ability to starve opponents of possession will be hard to overcome.
South Africa experienced that on Sunday. It played with courage and eagerness but England allowed it few opportunities. Under persistent pressure it incurred two yellow cards in the first half and by halftime England already was 29-0 ahead.
Its first half tries were scored by lock Rosie Galligan who touched down twice from rolling mauls and from Poppy Cleall and Shaughagh Brown. All were founded on powerful forward play.
The second half began perfectly for England with a try in the second minute to Connie Powell, again from a driven lineout.
England captain Marlie Packer then scored one of her team’s best tries, combining with her fellow loose forwards and running with freedom to touch down in the 50th minute. Galligan had her hat-trick minutes later, stretching her legs as gaps opened in the defense.
Cleall’s second try took England past 50 points in the 60th minute and the tries kept coming, 13 in total but only one to a back.
“We can take a lot from this game and build into the quarterfinals now,” Packer said.
Canada 29, United States 14
Third-ranked Canada burnished its image as a title contender at the Women’s Rugby World Cup Sunday with a 29-14 win over perennial rival the United States which completed a clean sweep of group matches.
Canada goes into the quarterfinals as second seed and as one of only three teams along with defending champion England and host New Zealand to have an unbeaten record in its group. It is likely to meet the United States again in next weekend’s knockout round.
The match had all the bruising nature of a virtual derby encounter with Canada using its backs in the first half to carry the ball powerfully and at pace, crashing from depth into a tough United States defensive line, set flat and determined not to yield.
Canada managed three first half tries and led 19-7 at the break. But the United States yielded those points grudgingly; Canada had to use all of its skill and some persistence to create scoring chances.
The United States also was resourceful. Aware that Canada’s lineout and the rolling mauls that develop from it is one of its strength, the United States forwards simply refused to engage the maul and without opposition players committed, the maul became illegal.
Canada still managed to score to build its lead through the first half. With sharp handling and direct running it was able to move the ball quickly to the flanks where it was able to impose some stress on the USA defense which was flat and stretched wide.
Canada’s first try came after only six minutes to hooker Emily Tuttosi from one of a few mauls it was able to marshal successfully.
A breakout run by Alysha Corrigan set up the next try which was scored by Alex Tessier. Corrigan recovered a chip kick, ran strongly and was supported by the Canada forwards who took the ball to the line.
The United States replied with a try to Alev Kelter who carried the ball forward near the 22 then featured again wide out with a strong scoring run through ineffective tackles.
Paige Farries added another for Canada just before the break.
The United States lost no fans in defeat. It frustrated Canada for long periods in the second half, frequently winning breakdown penalties and eventually securing its second try.
Canada needed 20 minutes to add to its halftime tally, finally driving Olivia DeMerchant over the USA line.
USA captain Kate Zackary was rewarded for an outstanding match with a try the 71s minute. But Canada had the final say with a try on the full time siren to Mikiela Nelson.
Italy 21, Japan 8
Melissa Bettoni scored a try with less than two minutes remaining Sunday to clinch Italy’s 21-8 win over Japan which propelled it into the quarterfinals of the Women’s Rugby World Cup.
In doing so on the last day of the group stage this became the first Italian team, male or female, to reach a World Cup knockout round.
Until Bettoni plunged over the line among a group of forwards in the 78th minute Italy’s attack had sputtered and it had relied on three penalties from center Michela Sillari for a brittle 14-8 lead.
Italy still was stretched to the limit by Japan who had no chance of reaching the quarterfinals but went out of the tournament with a bold performance which almost upset Italy’s progression.
Japan was solid in defense and at times stretched Italy with an expansive attack. Both teams scored a try in the first half and Italy relied on center Sillari whose first penalty gave it a 8-5 halftime lead and whose second broke a deadlock after Japan had equalized in the 49th minute.
Italy is known as an attacking side of some quality. But it had an off day Sunday and its back play broke down due to handling errors often forced by defensive pressure from Japan.
The second half was a slog and Italy, unable to breach the Japan defense, was forced to go to Sillari’s boot for its winning edge.
Italy’s opening try came in the ninth minute and was one of the brightest points in a relatively drab match. From a lineout, Italy spread the ball wide and Vittoria Ostuni Minuzzi played a key role in keeping the ball alive and drawing in defenders before offloading. She passed to the winger Aura Muzzo who had space on the left flank, then cut infield. When she was brought down just short of the line, Maria Magatti was present to carry the ball over the line.
Japan equalized through Kyoko Hosokawa in the 30th minute at the end of a wide-ranging move of multiple phases. Italy snuffed out attacks on both sides of the field but Japan kept possession and finally found a gap for Hosokawa to score.
From them on the boot of Sillari became predominant. She edged her team ahead at halftime, Japan drew level, then Sillari added two penalties for a 14-8 lead before Bettoni made the match safe.
“Not happy, no control in the match,” Italy coach Andrea di Giandomenico said. “For our squad we lost possession, had no control. We are happy of course but as a squad we have work to do.”
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