It was an Emily Scarratt masterclass when the classic ‘Le Crunch’ fixture was played out between France and England on Day Three of the 2021 Rugby World Cup. That was followed a day later by a somewhat Black Ferns cakewalk over Wales at Waitakere Stadium, on Day Four of the New Zealand-hosted tournament.
Contrasts for the top-seeded sides, with other matches seeing Canada earn a solid win over Italy 22-12, the United States defeated Japan, Australia pipped Scotland in the second narrow loss for the Scots at this tournament, with South Africa and Fiji ending the weekend’s action in a pulsating match-up.
In that clash, a heroic performance from the Fijiana women saw a terrific 21-17 win for the South Seas nation.
It made for another strong showing from all the women’s teams competing at this event. Matching the quality of the opening matches, if not the maximin crowd figures associated with Eden Park a week earlier. Smaller crowds were on hand at the Northland Events Center, Whangarei on Saturday. Though on Sunday, a peak crowd swelled for the mid-afternoon host team’s game at Waitakere Stadium, Auckland.
While attendance is not the primary value that World Rugby places on the host nation, the volume, and the pure enthusiasm on both days was never in question. Fans of the sport were out in force – families prevalent, as they were for the opening weekend and throughout the event to date.
That vocal encouragement assisted Fiji especially, with the Pacifica community of Henderson and surrounding Auckland suburbs clear for all to see. The whoops of support would have been motivation that assisted the Fijiana side in a huge result in Pool C. As much though, South African and Welsh shirts were worn proudly by ex-patriots who also gathered on Sunday to celebrate their nation’s participation.
See at bottom of page, for all match results.
England center Emily Scarratt masterclass as France overwhelmed
Leaving the field with a personal haul of 13-points, this Emily Scarratt masterclass was just one aspect of the close match result. One where scoring was extremely difficult to come by mind you. The more attacking team, England led the statistics across all measures, yet the pivotal Red Roses player herself gave a fair account of the game’s intensity at the conclusion.
— Rugby World Cup (@rugbyworldcup) October 15, 2022
Speaking to World Rugby, Scarratt explained, “I think it definitely was. I think it was definitely what we expected and what they expected as well, always super tough, super competitive and very physical. There are a lot of sore bodies down in that changing room. The French defended incredibly well at time, you know, you look up and you see a blue wall. Trying to run through brick walls is incredibly tough.
“Tough test but glad to come away with a win.”
Tough is one descriptive word to use. As so often occurs between the neighbouring countries, every match is epic. This one had the added pressure of topping Pool C. And it did not disappoint the rugby purists, with territory and possession proving key areas of the game. Scarratt added to that by saying, “We played in the right areas of the field, certainly in that first half. We got a lot of territory and couldn’t capitalize on it all as much as we want to.”
The England center began the night’s scoring in the 23rd minute, and with two further penalties on either side of halftime, allowed for a 0-13 scoreline yet France was the more prominent of the sides in the final quarter. It seemed they were on a roll after the pin-perfect crossfield kick was accepted by Joanna Grisez, to free the ball for try scorer, Gaëlle Hermet. Les Bleues put the Red Roses under considerable pressure, yet could not convert any chances despite all their combined efforts.
“Yeah, we’ll look at it and perhaps see quite a few missed opportunities but also look at it and celebrate the fact that we got in and around the right areas. We put ourselves in the right places. It’s still a balance for us. So, we worked our forwards super hard tonight. Some of their faces down in the changing room, they know they’ve been in a proper, proper match.”
France have TACKLED!
— Jared Wright (@jaredwright17) October 15, 2022
If proper means making a massive 227-team tackles then France will need the ice bath more than England might. There were few offloads in the game, yet 181 runs from England did give them 95 meters across the gain line. The ball was used more by Scarratt and her teammates too. 263 passes to 78 equals more than a three-to-one balance! So when Simon Middleton and his group digest the result, there was plenty of good to go with the bad. Scarratt explained, “So, it’s just looking at the balance of it.”
“It was a pretty greasy second half, we perhaps kept it a bit tighter than we would normally like to but we’ve just got to work out how to balance that.” Her words were followed-up by head coach Simon Middleton’s. “Managing the game in the last ten minutes was a big part of what we did. We should have been more clinical, we needed to be more clinical with the chances that we had. We just did not take our chances against a great side like France, if you don’t take your chances it will come back to bite you and it very nearly did.”
Facing South Africa in their final pool game, they will want to rely on more than simply another Emily Scarratt masterclass. And being mindful of how ‘rest and rotation’ can unsettle consistency and rhythm, this next game is just as critical for the unbeaten England side [27 consecutive games].
Other results saw Australia grab an important victory over Scotland 12-14. A try in the 75th minute appeared to earn the win, though a disappointing pair of Red Cards near full-time almost removed the victory. For the Wallaroos, discipline showed again, after their yellow cards against the Black Ferns the week earlier.
— Wallaroos (@WallaroosRugby) October 15, 2022
The USA Eagles were victorious over Japan by 30-17, and will take heart from the bonus point earned. A good morale booster also for Japan, to not concede more points and they crossed three times themselves. As well, their traditional crowd-pleasing bow to their supporters was gratefully applauded by the Whangarei crowd.
Cakewalk should not be taken as a derogative, as Wales used many of the limited opportunities found in a strong Black Ferns line-up. Even counting 10 new run-on replacements from Day One, the World Champions showed good ‘muscle memory’ to meet the challenge in a similar way that the All Blacks did at the 2019 tournament in 2019.
In terms of performance, now top try scorer of the tournament Portia Woodman was again all class. Her lethal attacking mentality would earn a pair in the first 40 minutes of play. Lock Chelsea Bremner and winger Sylvia Blunt also crossed, as did Welsh halfback, Ffion Lewis. Not so one-sided, and the number of red shirts in the crowd calling out loudly for more reward from their women’s side should have shown more reward.
Yet very much to formula, a quicker start to the second half extended the home side’s lead. Only stalled by a large number of substitutions that might have showed a poor strategy from the coaching group. If done against a tougher opponent (and with less scoreline security), it could cause them alarm later in the tournament. Charmaine McMeanamin summed it up well when telling reporters, “As a team we have a lot to work on, Wales gave us a good go today and should be proud of their efforts. Obviously, we have a lot to do on our set piece.”
“We are trying to strive for greatness, to do that we have to have honest conversations. Even though there were glimpses of brilliance out there we can get better, it’s just in our nature.”
“I had my 30th game, within the Black Fern’s we don’t play many test matches, I debuted in 2013 and it’s taken me this long to get here.”
Pretty cool to see Charmaine McMenamin post match with a homemade crisps / sweets sash from family + friends to celebrate her 30th cap. pic.twitter.com/zzDSqu8fHs
— Stella Mills 🏉 (@stella_mills_) October 16, 2022
Head coach Wayne Smith answered reporters postmatch by saying, “This game is about how you prepare the accountability for being responsible for your own preparation. If you have 23 who have prepared really well then you get good performances. We are getting there. We have 32 women who are worthy of starts, so they will get starts”. Rotation is an important part of any World Cup yet Smith should recall from his own experience in 2007 – the All Blacks were rotated to an extent where combinations eventually stuttered. So Black Ferns fans must hope that past lessons have been learned.
For Wales, the learnings continue. While a narrow win over Scotland still presents them with a pathway toward the RWC playoffs, the next game against Australia will be critical. Even today’s opposition will be keeping an eye on that fixture. Smith had this to say about the Welsh side.
“I really felt for them. They have a really good pack. I think the game next week against Australia will be a cracker, it will be worth coming to. Scotland probably should have beaten Wales last week, that will be tough up front”. If anything, Wales will already know that – they just have to work on their motivation and attitude over 80-minutes,
One side that now can feel completely motivated will be Fiji. They just made their chances of making a quarterfinal place that much easier, by defeating South Africa. The only barrier could be the poorest for/against record that might count for them, if another third-placed pool qualifier is in a better position at the end of next weekend.
Top try scorers at the 2021 Rugby World Cup (two or more tries) after Week Two:
5 – Emily Tuttosi CAN |Portia Woodman NZL
4 – Claudia MacDonald ENG
3 – Ruby Tui NZL
2 – Amy Cokayne ENG | Lydia Thompson ENG | Laure Sansus FRA | Bienne Terita AUS | Aura Muzzo ITA | Brianna Miller CAN | Sylvia Blunt NZL
“Main photo credit”
Embed from Getty Images