Quarter-final places up for grabs as Rugby World Cup 2021 pool phase concludes


The remaining five places in the quarter-finals, as well as the seedings for the knockout phase, will be decided in Whangārei and Auckland this weekend.

Australia captain Shannon Parry has urged her team-mates to embrace the challenge of beating Wales and booking their place in the Rugby World Cup 2021 quarter-finals.

The Wallaroos head into Saturday’s match at Northland Events Centre second in Pool A, ahead of Wales on points difference, following their 14-12 defeat of Scotland last time out.

Whoever comes out on top in the round three opener in Whangārei, which kicks off at 14:15 local time (GMT+13), will become the fourth team to secure their place in the quarter-finals.

Parry is one of three players named in the Wallaroos side that appeared the last time the teams met, a 30-3 victory at RWC 2014. Four members of the Welsh 23 also played in that match.

Australia have won all four of their previous meetings with Wales, by an average score of 28-4, but Parry knows she has a pivotal role to play if they are to stretch that run to five matches on Saturday.

“It’s always just about me personally getting those individuals to do their individual roles,” she said.

“I know if they can do their individual role and that result will almost look after itself so for us it doesn’t change, it doesn’t change the way we go about it.

“It’s very much the same but we all know what’s on the line. There’s no hiding away from that and the only pressure we have is the pressure we put on ourselves and we’re going to embrace it. We’re really looking forward to that challenge on Saturday.”

Wallaroos coach Jay Tregonning has made three changes to his starting line-up as prop Bridie O’Gorman, second-row Michaela Leonard and winger Ivania Wong come into the team. The uncapped Tania Naden, meanwhile, could make her debut from the bench.

Tregonning backed O’Gorman to strengthen Australia’s scrum, which is an area Wales are sure to put pressure on.

“The way the Wales scrum got on top of New Zealand is a focus for us and tactically we feel that Bridie is a little bit stronger tactically in that area and having Eva [Karpani] a bit fresher at the end is going to be outstanding,” he said.

Ioan Cunningham has made four changes to the Wales team that lost to New Zealand as prop Cerys Hale, flanker Alex Callender, centre Carys Williams-Morris and full-back Niamh Terry are selected.

Siwan Lillicrap will win her 50th test cap should she be introduced from the replacements’ bench in Whangārei.

Scotland have “nothing to lose” against Black Ferns

The Black Ferns will hope to give the home fans something to cheer as they target the bonus-point victory against Scotland that should take them into the quarter-finals as top seeds.

Wayne Smith has again switched things up, making 10 personnel changes from the side that beat Wales last weekend. Arihiana Marino-Taihinu will captain the Black Ferns as she makes only her second test start at scrum-half.

By contrast, Scotland coach Bryan Easson has made only one change – bringing in Shona Campbell for the injured Chloe Rollie – and consistency in selection is not the only difference between the teams.

The hosts head into the Northland Events Centre encounter on a nine-match winning streak on home soil and as the most potent team at RWC 2021.

New Zealand have scored the most tries (17), made the most line breaks (21), offloads (40) and tackle breaks (81) of any team in the opening two rounds of the tournament.

Scotland, by comparison, have not won a test since beating Colombia at the RWC 2021 Final Qualification Tournament, and have not defeated a team above them in the World Rugby Women’s Rankings powered by Capgemini in more than a year.

The Women’s Six Nations side need to win to have any hope of reaching the quarter-finals but have also lost all three of their previous meetings with the Black Ferns, albeit the last of those came at RWC 2006.

Although Scotland arrive in Whangārei on an eight-match losing run, their five most recent defeats have come by a converted try or less, including both losses at RWC 2021. Captain Rachel Malcolm says her team has “nothing to lose”.

“As soon as we found out we were going to be playing New Zealand in New Zealand, there has been nothing but excitement about this game,” she said.

“[It] is a really exciting challenge for us, to see how we fare. We have got absolutely nothing to lose and we’re going to throw absolutely everything at it.

“The vibe this week in camp has been class. We’ve moved location [to Tutukaka], so that’s been quite nice to have a bit of a reset, but we are ready to go.”

France ring changes for Fiji

Saturday’s action in Whangārei culminates with a first ever women’s test between France and Fiji, which is scheduled to kick-off at 19:15 local time (GMT+13).

Fijiana claimed a maiden Rugby World Cup win, against South Africa, last weekend, which propelled them up to 16th in the rankings and they would wrap up second in Pool C with a victory against France at Northland Events Centre.

Despite defeat to England last Saturday, and losing scrum-half Laure Sansus to a tournament-ending injury, Les Bleues will be confident of securing the win that will sew up second and, they hope, their place as fourth seeds for the quarter-finals.

France have never lost back-to-back pool phase matches and have not slipped to successive tournament losses since RWC 2010, when they were beaten by New Zealand in the semi-finals and Australia in the bronze final.

Les Bleues coach Thomas Darracq has made 12 changes to his starting line-up with only Céline Ferer, Caroline Drouin and Maëlle Filopon maintaining their places. Gaëlle Hermet returns to captain the side from flanker, while Jessy Trémoulière is included for the first time at RWC 2021.

Sereima Leweniqila returns at number eight for Fiji in one of six changes to Senirusi Seruvakula’s side, with Karalaina Naisewa – the match-winner against South Africa – shifting to blindside flanker. Fijiana sevens captain Rusila Nagasau is named on the bench.

“We’re expecting a really good game, definitely fast paced, physical,” Fiji captain Asinate Serevi said. “They’re one of the top teams but we haven’t played each other at all.

“We know they’re a good team, and we’re a good team as well. We’ve prepared for them and we trust the coaches have taught us a lot throughout the week to prep us for the next game.”

Quarter-final spots on the line in Auckland

Sunday’s action will get underway at Waitakere Stadium at 12:45 local time (GMT+13) as Italy and Japan meet for a must-win match in Pool B.

Having lost to Canada last weekend, Italy must avoid defeat against Japan and hope the result between the Canadians and the USA goes their way to finish second in the pool. Japan, meanwhile, have to win with a bonus point to have any chance of reaching the quarter-finals.

The teams have met three times previously, the Azzurre winning the first two at RWC 2002 and RWC 2017 while their most recent meeting ended as a 17-17 draw in L’Aquila three years ago.

Another stalemate in Auckland on Sunday would be enough to send Italy through to the quarter-finals as Pool B runners-up as long as Canada beat the USA in the next match at Waitakere Stadium.

Canada head into round three top of the pool and with a healthy points difference but need a bonus point against the Women’s Eagles to make sure of staying there.

The Women’s Eagles must beat their North American rivals to have any chance of finishing in the top two, unless Japan beat Italy by a wide margin and with a bonus point.

The two nations have met six times since the last Rugby World Cup in Ireland, with Canada winning the last five matches between the sides by an aggregate score of 148-54.

Were Canada to beat the USA with a bonus point in Auckland then they would head into the quarter-finals as at least second seeds.

The RWC 2021 pool phase will draw to a close on Sunday at Waitakere Stadium when England chase a 28th consecutive test victory, against South Africa.

England need to avoid defeat against the Springbok Women to be sure of finishing atop Pool C and will know whether they can improve on third seeding ahead of kick-off in Auckland.

South Africa must win to have any chance of finishing third in the pool and could need a bonus point or already be eliminated, depending on the result between France and Fiji.

The teams have met five times previously, including at RWC 2006, with England winning each of those matches by an average score of 53-7.