England, Canada and New Zealand became the first teams to secure their place in the Rugby World Cup 2021 quarter-finals during a gripping second round on New Zealand’s North Island.
There were also first wins of the competition for Australia, the USA and Fiji, who secured an historic victory which lifted them five places in the World Rugby Women’s Rankings powered by Capgemini.
But what did we learn from the matches at the Northland Events Centre and Waitakere Stadium? We recap all the action to find out.
Following a nervy opening 28 minutes against Australia on the opening weekend, the Black Ferns have come into their own, scoring 97 points and conceding just 12.
Playing in front of a sold-out Waitakere Stadium on Sunday, the hosts ran in 10 tries through eight different scorers to overwhelm Wales and storm into the quarter-finals as Pool A winners.
The Black Ferns, though, will not take anything for granted ahead of their final pool match against Scotland next Saturday as they continue to strive for improvement.
Asked if fans had seen the best of New Zealand yet, coach Wayne Smith replied succinctly: “No, you haven’t.”
On what the squad hopes to achieve over the next month, try-scorer Ruby Tui added: “We want to be courageous, to be honest we just want to make it an entertaining sport.
“We want people to watch women’s rugby and be like oh that was cool. Hopefully it comes off and we are not full of it.”
In the aftermath of Sunday’s defeat to the Black Ferns, Wales captain Siwan Lillicrap urged the team’s fans to keep the faith as they target quarter-final qualification.
“Don’t write us off, we are fighting for those quarter-final spaces,” she said. “We are seeing glimpses of what this side is capable of.”
Certainly, next Saturday’s match against Australia could not be set up more perfectly. The Wallaroos head into the game above Wales on points difference following their narrow 14-12 victory against Scotland.
The prize for the winner at Northland Events Centre in Whangārei is a guaranteed place in the quarter-finals.
"We need to make that quarter-final and I still have faith that we will make that quarter-final,” Grace Hamilton said. “Wales will be tough, we have seen them play, we saw that they played for 83 minutes last week.
“For us it's all about our process and what we need to get better at and there are definitely areas that we need to improve on especially, we started well against New Zealand and we didn’t start well today so it’s all about putting those pieces together.”
If anyone is going to beat Canada at RWC 2021 then they are going to need to find a way to nullify their driving maul.
Despite conceding a try in the opening stages for the second match in succession, Canada recovered to earn a bonus-point victory against Italy and their lineout again proved to be a clinical attacking weapon.
Hooker Emily Tuttosi profited from the set-piece to take her tournament tally to five tries – the joint most at RWC 2021 with Portia Woodman – but it was not only close to the goal line that it proved effective.
Canada won three penalties at the lineout and stole four of Italy’s throws as well.
“We know our set pieces are good, so when you have good stuff, you need to use it,” coach Kevin Rouet said. “We need to use our scrum more.”
Next up for the Canadians is a North American derby against the USA, and they only need a losing bonus point to be sure of topping Pool B.
The USA have only beaten Canada twice since they beat their oldest rivals 23-20 at RWC 2010 but they got their Pool B campaign back on track with a win against Japan.
Alev Kelter played a pivotal role in the second-half turnaround that led to the Women’s Eagles’ 30-17 victory.
Kelter put in a typically all-action performance in Whangārei, scoring 12 of her side’s points, including a try, having beaten five defenders and made 55 metres with ball in hand. Defensively, she made 10 tackles and assisted a further two.
“Alev was one of a handful of players who stood up,” coach Rob Cain said, “[but] it obviously takes 23 players to win a test match.”
Captain Kate Zackary added: “Alev’s an outstanding player. I hate to tackle her, a lot of people hate to tackle her so why not put her in that her up in that channel?”
Although France slipped to an 11th successive loss against England on Saturday, the Red Roses have rarely been made to work so hard for victory during their record winning run.
Simon Middleton’s side struggled to make the most of their superior territory and possession in the face of an extraordinary French defensive effort.
Les Bleues made a combined 227 tackles – compared to England’s 73 – in Whangārei, with flanker Marjorie Mayans contributing 28 alone.
The positive for England and Middleton is that the Red Roses managed to get over the line, but the fear is France have produced a blueprint of how to beat them.
“I am proud of this group. I'm proud of this state of mind because we made them doubt,” Gaëlle Hermet said.
“We showed them that we were present and today it was maybe not the result we expected, but in any case it was not the most important game of the competition.
“We still have a game next week even if we would have liked to win it. But I want to tell them and I hope they will see us again very soon.”
France will be without scrum-half Laure Sansus when they take on Fiji next Saturday after it was confirmed she would miss the rest of the tournament with a knee injury sustained in the first half of the defeat to England.
Fiji head into the final round of the pool stage on a high having recorded their first ever Rugby World Cup win in stunning fashion against South Africa.
Despite conceding the lead with less than two minutes of the match remaining at Waitakere Stadium, when Libbie Janse van Rensburg sent a penalty sailing through the posts, Fijiana dug deep to surge upfield and secure victory.
Number eight Karalaini Naisewa scored the match-winning try with a powerful finish, but it was the barnstorming prop Siteri Rasolea who started the move with a big carry.
Rasolea put in a huge shift in Auckland, carrying the ball for 93 metres and breaking through a combined seven tackles.
Captain Asinate Serevi said: “The energy going into the game today was positive. I think we just played to our strengths.
“Even with two or three minutes left in the game, we knew we had the confidence. We just said, ‘kick, let’s get it back and we score’, and that’s what we did.”