Rugby World Cup 2021: What we learned from the opening weekend
Rugby World Cup 2021 got underway in record-breaking style in Auckland and Whangārei as fans were treated to a pulsating weekend of action.
Hosts New Zealand, Wales, Italy, Canada, France and England all got their campaigns off to the perfect start with victories on Saturday and Sunday.
But what did we learn from the matches at Eden Park and the Northland Events Centre? We recap all of the action to find out.
For half an hour at Eden Park it looked as though the Wallaroos might just gate crash the Black Ferns’ opening night party.
Australia led 17-0 and were good value for it, until the quality in the home backline began to tell.
Stacey Fluhler, excellent at outside centre, contributed heavily to New Zealand’s opening try and would later supply a superb offload for Portia Woodman’s hat-trick score.
‘Wonder Woodman’ took the headlines for her three-try haul but it was Ruby Tui on the opposite wing who was named Mastercard Player of the Match following an outstanding display around the park that she capped with two late tries.
The Black Ferns have plenty to work on ahead of their second match against Wales on Sunday, but when their three-quarters are on song they are a fearsome proposition for any team in the world.
Wales head to Waitakere Stadium second in Pool A following a nail-biting 18-15 defeat of Scotland that highlighted the work the team’s kickers have put in on the training pitch.
Former England men’s fly-half Stephen Myler worked with the squad prior to their departure to New Zealand, and the results were clear to see in Whangārei.
Elinor Snowsill’s conversion and penalty – and kicking from hand – were pivotal in helping Wales build a 15-5 half-time lead, before replacement scrum-half Keira Bevan won the match with a nerveless kick in the 86th minute.
“As soon as I knew we had penalty advantage, I asked the ref for the pen because I knew it was in a kickable spot,” Bevan said.
“I said to Hannah [Jones], I could kick it and, yeah, the rest is history, I guess. I kind of forgot where I was. I have done a lot of kicking at the Vale (of Glamorgan) where we train and at my local pitch so, and I know it sounds cliched, but I just pictured being there, when no one was around, and I just blocked everything out and stuck to my process.
“I didn’t even want to look at the ball when it went over, I was just head down and praying basically.”
The stage has been set perfectly for Sunday’s meeting between Italy and Canada at Waitakere Stadium after both teams got off to winning starts in Whangārei.
Italy impressed in the second half against the USA, pulling away in the final quarter to win 22-10 and secure a bonus point.
There was much to admire about the way the Azzurre attacked at the Northland Events Centre, especially in the quality of passing from playmakers Veronica Madia and Beatrice Rigoni.
“We need to keep on doing what we are [doing], what we want to do and that is it,” Michela Sillari said afterwards.
Canada needed little invitation to do what they do best against Japan, crossing the whitewash seven times to win 41-5 at the Northland Events Centre.
The Canadians were particularly dominant up front, with hooker Emily Tuttosi helping herself to a hat-trick of tries.
“It’s really special,” Tuttosi said. “We have been waiting for this match and for this tournament for a long time and to come out and get a ‘W’ with the team is really good and it is what we have been working for.
“Hopefully, it is a great building block for us for the rest of the tournament.”
England lead the way in Pool C on points difference ahead of their match against France in Whangārei on Saturday, following a record-breaking 84-19 win against Fiji.
The number one team in the World Rugby Women’s Rankings powered by Capgemini ran in 14 tries – including four for Claudia Macdonald – but found it tough going for at least 40 minutes against a committed Fijiana side.
Fiji trailed by only 10 points, 24-14, at the interval having been able to punch holes in the Red Roses defence almost at will during the first half.
It means there is plenty for Senirusi Seruvakula and his Rugby World Cup debutants to take into their next match against South Africa.
“I think we can just get better from here,” Fiji captain Sereima Leweniqila said. “We can get better from here and concentrate on our next games.
“I think we could have played better but it just wasn’t our day. We learned a lot and it’s a good learning for our first time in a World Cup.”
France will know they need to be more clinical if they are to do what they haven’t done since 2018 and beat England next weekend.
Les Bleues ran in six tries during their opening 40-5 defeat of South Africa at Eden Park but only provided a glimpse of what they are capable of.
“We have to manage to play 80 minutes at a high level,” Céline Ferer said. “We have the right to have phases of hesitation, we have to manage to refocus and that's what we managed to do [against South Africa] because we were able to make progress afterwards.
“So, we have to keep a cool head and be clear-headed in our game."