Winger Joanna Grisez scored a try in the first two minutes and added two more late for a hat trick which lifted France to a 39-3 win over Italy Saturday in the first quarterfinal at the Women’s Rugby World Cup at Whangarei, New Zealand.
The final score hid the fact that France went 60 minutes without a try between Grisez’s first and a penalty try which finally relieved some of the pressure Italy had exerted and allowed France to finally stretch its legs in the last quarter.
After the penalty try came an avalanche of four tries in the last quarter which made France’s win one of its most emphatic in its recent matches against its European neighbor.
France had a large surplus of possession for most of the match and an advantage of territory but for a long period through the middle of the match it seemed incapable of finding a way to score against stoic Italian defense.
The turning point in the match came with the penalty try when Italy infringed at a scrum near its line and Silvia Turani, singled out as the offender, was sent to the sin-bin.
France cashed in immediately on its numerical advantage with a try to Laure Touye, then Grisez touched down in the 68th and 70th minutes to complete a rare World Cup triple and make France’s win conclusive and impressive.
France should have scored in the 45th minute when they had a three-player overlap but cut back inside. It also should have scored two minutes later but Charlotte Escudero dropped the ball over the line. France seemed fated to be denied by the Italy defense and relieved on penalties to extend their lead after Grisez’s early try.
But the floodgates opened with the penalty try and France will be formidable in the semifinals, especially on the basis of its defensive performance. It has conceded just 21 points in four games at the tournament so far.
”We are so happy to play a semifinal next week,” France captain Gabrielle Vernier said. ”I’m so proud of the girls. It’s been a tough few weeks and today we proved when are one of the best teams. It’s a dream come true and I hope for the best for the team.”
Italy was playing in its first World Cup quarterfinal and may use its experience in New Zealand as a springboard to better things.
”We are happy to be here and to get to the quarterfinal but we need to start from this and improve in the next year and maybe in the next World Cup and get to the semifinal,” captain Elisa Giordano said.
New Zealand played Wales in the second quarterfinal Saturday., On Sunday, England was scheduled to play Australia and Canada took on the United States in the other quarterfinals.
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