The 2021 Rugby World Cup is building steadily to a climax and the final four have been confirmed with a potential England v France showdown on the cards.
The quarter-finals saw TikTok Women’s Six Nations rivals Italy and France go head-to-head in Whangarei, while England and Wales faced tricky southern hemisphere tests.
Les Bleues put in a tremendous second-half performance to accelerate away from Italy, who were making their first World Cup quarter-final appearance.
Simon Middleton’s side proved too strong for Australia in Auckland, while Wales’ Rugby World Cup journey came to an end at the hands of hosts New Zealand.
Red Roses roll on
Marlie Packer was at her bulldozing best to seal a hat-trick in the pouring rain against the Wallaroos.
And skipper Sarah Hunter marked her record-breaking 138th cap with the first of seven tries in a 41-5 victory.
It is now a staggering 29 Test wins in a row for the 2014 champions and even the torrential New Zealand conditions couldn’t stop a rampant England pack.
All seven tries came from forwards, with Abbie Ward, Amy Cokayne and Alex Matthews also crossing, again underlining the strength of this team.
Emily Chancellor grabbed Australia’s only try in the first half to leave Jay Tregonning’s players still in with a shout going into the interval 19-5 down.
But England were not to be denied and continued their 31-year run of qualifying for every Rugby World Cup semi-final.
Beaten 2014 finalists Canada stand in their way of a sixth consecutive final, having run out 32-11 winners over North American rivals the United States on Sunday.
France turn on the style late on
The only all-European quarter-final was hanging in the balance at half time, with Italy within touching distance of France at 10-3.
French winger Joanna Grisez got the ball rolling in the first half and turned on the style in the second to bring her match tally to three in a 39-3 win on Saturday.
Thomas Darracq’s team enjoyed 61% possession and an impressive 74% territory across the 80 minutes and their pressure eventually told in the last quarter.
A penalty try was awarded in the 61st minute before replacement hooker Laure Touye crossed three minutes later.
Tokyo silver medallist Grisez then grabbed two in three minutes to put the result beyond all doubt and set up a crunch match with hosts New Zealand on Saturday.
Hosts New Zealand too strong for Wales
The Black Ferns confirmed their last-four place with a frightening 55-3 victory over Wales three hours later.
Portia Woodman became the Rugby World Cup’s record try-scorer, crossing twice to take her all-time total to 20.
Scrum-half Keira Bevan kicked a penalty in the 16th minute to reduce the deficit to four points after Woodman’s early converted try.
But from that point, the hosts cut loose and ran in nine tries to end Ioan Cunningham’s hopes of a first semi-final since 1994.