AUCKLAND (AFP) – England and France romped to big wins while hosts New Zealand survived a mighty scare yesterday in front of a record crowd on the opening day of the women’s Rugby World Cup.
Tournament hot favourites England crushed Fiji 84-19 at Eden Park in Auckland after fellow European powerhouses France outclassed South Africa 40-5.
Then a world-record crowd for a women’s rugby match of 40,000 saw the final match of a triple-header at Eden Park as holders New Zealand fought back from 17-0 down against Australia to prevail 41-17.
Prolific try-scorer Portia Woodman scored a hat-trick for the hosts while Ruby Tui bagged a late double, playing their part on a high-octane opening day in which wingers scored 20 of the 34 tries.
England extended their unbeaten run to 26 matches and scored their most points in a World Cup game, but only after surviving early fireworks from the Fijians and taking a tight 24-14 advantage into halftime.
Six Nations champions England left little doubt they will be the team to beat at the 12-nation tournament, unleashing a mix of speed and power in a match that brought together the highest- and lowest-ranked teams.
Claudia MacDonald scored four tries while fellow winger Lydia Thompson bagged a double.
Thompson admitted it had been a sluggish first half by England’s high standards.
“We’ve got a lot to reflect on, Fiji really came at us and gave us a really good match,” she said, after her side racked up 14 tries.
“We went back to basics, to what England are known for, which is set piece and earning the right to go wide.”
The most memorable England try went to reserve winger Abby Dow, playing her first Test since breaking her leg against Wales in April.
In the opening game of the tournament, France started and finished strongly in a victory based around the class of their halves pairing.
Scrum-half Laure Sansus – named player of the tournament in this year’s Six Nations – crossed twice while fly-half Caroline Drouin scored a try and set up two others with exquisite short kicks.
The fourth-ranked French raced 19-0 ahead against South Africa inside the opening quarter but were kept scoreless for 50 minutes before a late flurry.
France captain Celine Ferer said her side may have been daunted by the occasion.
“We’re in a mythical stadium, maybe a little bit of pressure to be in a magnificent stadium like this and it’s the first match,” she said.
Australia dominated the opening half-hour against the hosts with three tries, including a double to teenage winger Bienne Terita, but New Zealand had closed to 17-12 by halftime.
At 17-all, the pulsating clash swung when Australian pair Ivania Wong and captain Shannon Parry were shown yellow cards in quick succession.
The Black Ferns capitalised, scoring five of their seven tries in the second half, to the relief of an expectant crowd, and captain Ruahei Demant.