Spain and Italy unbeaten in WRWC qualifier
Following an exciting opening day on Saturday, the six teams vying for two places at Women's Rugby World Cup 2014 in France gathered in Madrid for round two of the qualifiers.
With conditions perfect for running rugby in the Spanish capital, the fans in attendance saw three top class matches, with plenty of tries on offer as Italy, Samoa and the host nation tasted victory.
Italy 27-3 Scotland
The day's first encounter was a replay of the Women's Six Nations game in February, featuring a eager Italian team taking on a Scottish team with a point to prove after losing that match 8-0.
With an early afternoon kick-off at the Estadio de la Universidad Complutense in Madrid, both teams showed spectators that they were willing to play open, running rugby on the hard ground.
After trading early penalties in a hard fought battle, Italy got the upper hand when their full back Manuela Furlan got in under the posts following some excellent passing and then compounded Scotland's misery by scoring almost immediately afterwards, leaving the score 17-3 in Italy's favour at the break.
In the second half, Scotland took the game to the Italians with some excellent distribution from fly half Tanya Griffith, who spread the ball gracefully to her outside backs. But their efforts were in vain as sloppy handling and basic mistakes created opportunities for the Italians, and scrum half Sara Barattin did well to control the ball and dot down midway through the second half.
Italy's defence held out and and they recorded a 27-3 victory, although they may rue the failure to score fourth try to secure a bonus point that could prove crucial in the final rankings on Saturday.
Scotland head coach Karen Findlay was unable to hide her feelings after the final whistle. "We're really, really disappointed. Now we're going to have to win our third round game. It's going to be a difficult run-in now as our fate isn't in our hands anymore.
"We set out a good game plan with the intention of playing in the wide channels. We attacked really well and we had great territory at times but we just did not capitalise on that. "
Samoa 29-0 Sweden
Samoa had been far from happy with the manner of their loss to Italy on the opening day, despite finishing strongly with four tries to secure a bonus point, and that determination to improve was evident as they bounced back impressively against Sweden.
The Manusina got off the mark early, scoring two tries in the first 16 minutes through wing Makiroa Leota and fly half Alaiumu Sao Taliu. Sweden managed to retain ball and carried a lot through the forwards but never really threatened the Samoan line.
Samoa then turned their pressure into more points with tries from flanker Tracy Helleur and centre Merenaite Faitala-Mariner to wrap up the bonus point before half time.
It could have been a runaway victory, but the second half was a different story. Samoa managed to put Makiroa Leota over in the corner for her second try in the 54th minute, but after that Sweden found an extra gear and camped on the Samoan line for almost 10 minutes ... how they didn't cross the whitewash, only they will know.
Spain 78-0 Netherlands
A large crowd gathered to watch the hosts Spain take on the Netherlands and if they were hoping to see a glut of tries in a spectacle of running rugby then they left with plenty of smiles.
From the off, Spain looked in control and it wasn't long before they opened the scoring. Good work by their forwards, along with some excellent passing by their backs, saw the host team touch down five times in the first half through Eli Martínez, Bárbara Plá, Marina Bravo, María Ribera and Júlia Pla.
The Netherlands enjoyed some brief spells in control, but never really threatened during the first half as they went in trailing 40-0.
The second half was another tale of woe for the Dutch women as within 10 minutes of the restart Spain had registered another two converted tries through Júlia Pla and Elena Redondo. Four more were to follow - through María Casado, Bravo, Júlia Pla and Ribera - before Irish referee Nigel Correll blew the final whistle.
"It was outstanding. The girls were very focused on what we had to do. When you lay out a plan and it comes off like that, it's a very good day," said Spain manager Alejandro Aguilera.
"Italy will be a tough game on Saturday and we have to put in a top performance if we're to qualify for the Rugby World Cup next year."
All eyes on the prize
All eyes now turn to match day three this Saturday where Italy, Spain, Scotland and Samoa are all still in contention after the first two rounds. Spain currently top the standings with 10 points, one more than Italy with Samoa third with six and Scotland fourth on five points. Sweden and the Netherlands are yet to record a point.
The final day sees Scotland tackle Sweden and Samoa face the Netherlands before the mouth-watering finale between the two unbeaten teams Italy and Spain. The top two teams after the final round of matches will qualify for Women's Rugby World Cup 2014 and leave only two places remaining to be filled by an African and Asian qualifier.
Fixtures and results (all kick-off times local)
Saturday, April 20:
Italy 65-22 Samoa
Netherlands 7-29 Scotland
Sweden 0-55 Spain
Tuesday, April 23:
Italy 27-3 Scotland
Sweden 0-29 Samoa
Netherlands 0-78 Spain
Saturday, April 27:
Sweden v Scotland (13:30)
Netherlands v Samoa (15:30)
Italy v Spain (17:30)