England, New Zealand and Canada are already assured of quarter-final spots at the women’s Rugby World Cup, leaving five remaining berths up for grabs in the final round of pool matches this weekend.
With two third-placed finishers progressing along with the top two from each of the three pools in New Zealand, all 12 teams remain in the running even if it would take an unlikely series of results for winless Japan, South Africa and Scotland to advance.
Italy will be strong favourites to beat Japan and clinch at least second place in Pool B on Sunday, while France will be expected to seal their quarter-final spot against Fiji in Saturday’s final match at Whangarei.
Australia and Wales meet on Saturday in the opening match of the round, which will almost certainly decide second place behind New Zealand in Pool A and send the losers into the battle for the two spots for third-placed teams.
Wales attack coach Richard Whiffin said his team would be going all out for a first ever victory over the ‘Wallaroos’ to avoid the possibility that they might later lose out through points differential or another tiebreaker.
“Playing the first game of the whole weekend, it is something we can’t control so we have got to go out there and try and win the game and almost take it out of anyone else’s hands,” Whiffin said ahead of the Whangarei clash.
The United States, inaugural world champions in 1991, will by contrast know exactly what they need to do to go through when they play neighbours Canada in Sunday’s penultimate match.
Third-placed behind the Pool B leaders and Italy going into the weekend, the Americans, could still conceivably top the group or miss out on the quarter-finals altogether.
“A win is what we need and a win is what we’re going to go after, it doesn’t matter who gets in the way,” U.S. captain Kate Zackary said last weekend after the 30-17 win over Japan which got their campaign back on track after an opening loss to Italy.
With one competition point more than the other likely contenders for a third-placed berth and a positive points differential, the Eagles should still earn a place in the quarter-finals in defeat.
In the final match of the round, tournament favourites England will be confident of wrapping up Pool C with a 28th successive victory when they take on the South Africans at Auckland’s Waitakere Stadium.
Hosts and reigning champions New Zealand take on Scotland in Auckland on Saturday with a much-changed side looking to further hone their new attacking style and run in as many tries as possible.
The quarter-final fixtures will be decided by seedings based on pool positions and points scored in the opening stage. England and New Zealand topped the point-scoring charts after the first two rounds with 97 each.