New Zealand and England send out strong messages at Belfield
World’s two top sides complete their pools unbeaten with wins over USA and Canada
New Zealand players celebrate with try scorer Selica Winiata. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho
England and New Zealand duly confirmed their respective status as the number one and two ranked sides in the world as they made untroubled progress to the semi-finals of the Women’s Rugby World Cup at Belfield.
The sense of anticipation that both would be tested in their final pool matches proved hopelessly misguided as England’s 47-26 win over the USA and New Zealand’s 48-5 victory over Canada were essentially facile.
While there is so much to admire in the quality of the rugby produced by England and New Zealand, the absence of a genuine contest in either game rendered the spectacles a little underwhelming, albeit acknowledging the USA’s stirring second half mini-revival.
It is only when England and New Zealand meet – it could be in the final unless there is a monumental upset – that the tournament may be afforded the contest it craves and deserves.
England are unbeaten in 12 matches this season, a sequence that was never threatened in their win over the USA, stockpiling points at quite a clip both before and after the interval, until the flurry of replacements stifled the rhythm a tad.
The USA team possesses several outstanding athletes, notably Cheta Emba, Naya Elena Tapper, Kristian Thomas and Alycia Washington, but a collective lack of game time in the 15-a-side code was always going to debilitating against such well-drilled opposition.
They deserve huge credit for the manner in which they took the game to England in the second half, scoring three tries through Tapper, Emba and Thomas to copperfasten a four-try bonus point that their endeavour thoroughly merited.
England led 47-7, scoring seven tries primarily through the work of a dominant pack, but lost their shape in the final 20 minutes and were run ragged by their opponents.
Earlier New Zealand won as they pleased in a 48-5 victory over Canada to guarantee a place in the semi-finals and also the number one seeding irrespective of what transpires later in the day at Belfield.
Despite operating for 20 minutes of the match a player short – two Kiwis received yellow cards – they romped to a comprehensive win, scoring eight tries, three of which went to their indefatigable tighthead prop Aldora Ituni, correctly identified as the player-of-the-match.
The New Zealand side can play with and without structure facilitated by the calibre of their handling skills, game management and appreciation of space on the pitch. There is a kicking game there too, predicated on the value of turning the opposition and corralling them in corners.
Physically they dominated the Canadians, outhalf Victoria Subritzky-Nafatali, conspicuous in that regard and few present will forget her rib-tickler on Canadian counterpart Emily Belchos.
New Zealand’s line speed forced errors and they capitalised relentlessly, patient and powerful in their close-in drives to complement the excellent running of fullback Selica Winiata and her wings Portia Woodman and Renee Wickliffe. Kelly Brazier controlled the game beautifully from inside centre.
To their credit the Canadians continued to put width on the ball right to the end but they rarely managed a foothold in the match, limited to sporadic moments of positivity, one of which was a try for their flanker Jacey Grusnick. It was a meagre consolation.