Rugby World Cup 2021: What we learned from the quarter-finals
Only four teams remain in the hunt for the trophy at Rugby World Cup 2021 as the action heads back to Eden Park for this weekend’s semi-finals.
England, New Zealand, Canada and France – the top four teams in the World Rugby Women’s Rankings powered by Capgemini – will contest the semi-finals in Auckland on Saturday.
But what did we learn from the quarter-finals at the Northland Events Centre and Waitakere Stadium? We recap the action to find out.
Grisez, Woodman wow crowd in Whangārei
In the lead up to the semi-final meeting between France and the Black Ferns on Saturday a lot is sure to be made of Les Bleues’ defensive capabilities.
France have conceded only 21 points in their four matches in New Zealand so far, less than any other competing nation, and as they showed against England in Pool C they can shut down the most prolific attacks.
And then there were four... 🏆#RWC2021 pic.twitter.com/nKsM9Vgxe7— Rugby World Cup (@rugbyworldcup) October 30, 2022
That is something they will need to do at Eden Park if they are to qualify for a first Rugby World Cup final, as they come up against Portia Woodman, Ruby Tui and Co.
However, against Italy in the quarter-finals, Joanna Grisez proved that it isn’t only the hosts who are well stocked in the back three.
Grisez scored a hat-trick of tries in Whangārei, highlighting the finishing ability that prompted France to include her in the RWC 2021 squad ahead of some more established names.
The sevens star was uncapped ahead of the tournament but now has four tries in three Rugby World Cup appearances and racked up some impressive numbers during her side’s quarter-final victory.
Grisez carried the ball for 202 metres from 14 carries, broke four tackles and made a linebreak, while supplying two linebreak assists, and France will need her to be in similar form this weekend.
“Joanna Grisez is really there to be an impact player because we know her qualities of speed, aggressiveness,” coach Thomas Darracq said.
“She had a very, very good season with the France women's sevens team and she showed all her qualities as a puncher and her speed to score tries. I am very happy that she was able to show that she belongs here.”
Marine Ménager and Emilie Boulard impressed in Whangārei as well and if Darracq sticks with the same back three for the semi-final then fans are in for a mouthwatering match-up.
Black Ferns Tui and Woodman have been among the stars of the tournament so far, while Ayesha Leti-I’iga will only benefit from her 53 minutes against Wales.
Add to that equation the playmaking abilities of Theresa Fitzpatrick and Stacey Fluhler, who were both excellent in the quarter-final win, and France’s defence will need to be committed as ever at Eden Park.
Certainly, Black Ferns coach Wayne Smith will hope Woodman can maintain her phenomenal form, having crossed twice against Wales to set a new Rugby World Cup record of 20 tries – in only eight appearances.
“When you see the names up there – Jonah Lomu, Sue Day, Bryan Habana … they are legends of the game themselves so to kind of see myself in the same light as them, I guess, it’s pretty incredible,” she said.
“It is not something you think will ever come true. It’s an incredible moment but all credit to the team.”
England clinical, De Goede leads by example
If the weekend’s action is anything to go by then it will take more than a bit of wet weather to derail England’s 29-match winning streak.
Waitakere Stadium experienced a deluge during the Red Roses’ quarter-final against Australia on Sunday, as fans in attendance huddled under ponchos and shelter.
Such persistent rain can sometimes prove to be a leveller, but England played the conditions magnificently, dominating possession and playing large parts of the match in the Wallaroos’ half.
By the end of the match, they had enjoyed 66 per cent possession, 59 per cent territory and made 12 entries into the Australian 22, while conceding only three.
The clinical nature of the Red Roses when they have a sight of the goal line was highlighted by the fact that they turned seven of those 12 attacking possessions into tries.
“Our game management was absolutely outstanding,” coach Simon Middleton said. “We talked about playing in the right areas of the field and being patient, clinical with opportunities and not giving Australia opportunities.
“We kicked well, we chased well, we had a lot of defensive tackles and put a lot of pressure on them.
“Everything fed in and especially our set piece was phenomenal today as it has been throughout this tournament.”
Canada will meet England in Saturday’s opening semi-final at Eden Park, and the Red Roses will provide the North Americans’ toughest test yet at RWC 2021.
Coach Kevin Rouet insisted the pressure is off his players ahead of that match. “We know we are not the favourite for this tournament,” he said on Sunday before adding that their quest for glory “is not over”.
The Canadians have been excellent in New Zealand so far and the 32-11 win was a real team effort, with huge performances all over the pitch helping to turn the tide following a fast start from the USA.
But while Karen Paquin, Paige Farries and Alysha Corrigan were all excellent, and Elissa Alarie rolled back the years in the number 15 jersey, it was captain Sophie de Goede who led the way.
No player at RWC 2021 has made more carries than De Goede and the number eight was at it again in Auckland, making 94m from 17 runs with ball in hand.
In doing so, she broke six tackles, provided a try assists and added 12 points with her boot to truly lead by example.
“Every game we're getting better and every game we go in, do our analysis and we get smarter,” De Goede said on Sunday.
“We already know that we're athletic but for us it's about improving our game management, tactical awareness and we've been improving that every game.
“We know we are the underdogs going into this game against England, but it's a spot we love to be in as Canadians. We're excited to come out fighting.”