WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) — Quarterfinal match-ups at the Women’s Rugby World Cup appear to promise one-sided matches and a predicted meeting in the semifinals of the four top-ranked teams — England, France, New Zealand and Canada.
Defending champion and host New Zealand on Saturday will play Wales which it beat 57-0 a week ago in the group stage. Canada also faces a rematch on Sunday with the United States which it beat 29-14 last weekend.
Third-ranked France will play Italy on Saturday and top-ranked England will play Australia on Sunday in match-ups which didn’t occur in group play.
Though the outcome of the quarterfinals is seen by some as predictable, the underdogs are promising to put up a fight.
Australia’s Wallaroos have the toughest task against an England team which stretched its world-record winning streak to 28 tests with a 75-0 win over South Africa in the final round of group matches. England’s streak — a record for both women and men — began in 2019 and its average winning margin has been 38 points.
Australia fullback Lori Cramer told the Sydney Morning Herald that her teammates are undaunted by England’s impressive record. Cramer said Australia is improving with every game and showed an ability to shock when it led New Zealand 17-0 in the opening match of the tournament.
“It is easy to look at stats and how they haven’t been beaten in so long, blah, blah,” Cramer said. “But every game you play is closer to your first loss. It can’t last forever. Me personally, I like being underdogs. We are really embracing being underdogs, the pressure is all on them.”
Wales also is defiant ahead of its match with New Zealand’s Black Ferns, though it has a 57-point gap to bridge after last week’s defeat.
“All eyes are going to be on the Black Ferns, everyone is going to expect them to win,” Wales captain Siwan Lillicrap wrote in a column for the BBC. “We are happy to go quietly under the radar and hopefully cause one of the biggest upsets in the women’s game.
“We have never beaten them before. Saturday would be a good day to make history.”
Head coach Wayne Smith said New Zealand realized from its previous meeting with Wales that Saturday’s match will be physical and the Black Ferns will have to keep their focus.
“It’s about the attitude to play well against Wales because to be fair they’ve bumped us physically in that first game that we played them,” Smith said. “This is an opportunity for our women to show that we can match them (physically). I’m all about you getting the attitude right. When the boots are on you switch on. That’s what we’re trying to do.”
France already has lost to Italy once this year, in their last warmup match before the World Cup. Captain Gaelle Hermet said her players are determined to avoid a repeat.
“We are just eager to be on the field, to be able to play because we know it’s a special game,” Hermet said. “It’s a game with a lot at stake where it’s either you pass or it breaks down.
“We want to galvanize ourselves a little bit by saying that it promises to be a big game.”
Italy head coach Andrea Di Giandomenico said his players want to “enjoy the moment.”
“For me France is really challenging because they have different attacking options,” Di Giandomenico said. “We know France want to win this Rugby World Cup. Every competition France plays, they play to win. There’s nothing to lose for us.”
Canada has won its last six matches with the United States and hopes to reach the semifinals for the first time since 2014.
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