New Zealand and Canada joined England in guaranteeing themselves berths in the women’s Rugby World Cup quarter-finals with contrasting wins in Auckland on Sunday.
Canada used forward power to suffocate Italy 22-12 before tournament hosts New Zealand unleashed a high-octane brand in a 56-12 demolition of Wales.
The two performances came a day after England used pressure rugby to beat stubborn fourth seeds France 13-7 as the three top-ranked nations rose to the top of their pools through two rounds of matches.
The weekend ended on a thrilling note when Fiji scored a try in the final minute to upset South Africa 21-17 to secure their first win in tournament history.
Fly-half Libbie Janse van Rensburg put South Africa three points ahead with a penalty four minutes from the end but Fiji snatched victory with a try to No.8 Karalaina Naisewa, prompting colourful celebrations.
While both of those teams can still secure a quarter-final berth in next week’s last round of pool play, England, New Zealand and Canada have already booked tickets to the knockout phase with 100 percent records.
New Zealand’s Black Ferns turned on an attacking masterclass in their 10-try display.
Playing with a willingness to offload passes rather than kick, the Black Ferns had too much speed and skill for a Welsh side who had beaten Scotland 18-15 last week.
There were two tries each for 18-year-old centre Sylvia Brunt and prolific wing Portia Woodman, who lifted her extraordinary career tally to 36 tries in 22 Tests.
New Zealand captain Ruahei Demant said her side had improved from last week’s tournament-opening 41-7 defeat of Australia.
– ‘Deadly players’
“I’m proud of the way the team bounced back from last week,” said Demant, who was among the try-scorers and made eight offloads.
“We weren’t happy with the way we started the tournament and so to come up here and apply ourselves mentally, I’m pleased with the way we played to the spaces that we saw.”
Wales skipper Siwan Lillicrap, who scored their second try in the dying stages, said New Zealand’s style will have the top teams on high alert.
“They pounced on our mistakes, they have deadly wingers that can create stuff from nothing,” she said.
“They have deadly players all around the park, with great attacking ability.”
Woodman is the tournament’s joint top try scorer with five, level with Canadian hooker Emily Tuttosi, who scored twice in Canada’s forward-based win over the fifth-ranked Italians.
Down 5-0 after conceding a try to fullback Vittoria Ostuni Minuzzi in 31 seconds, the Canucks took control up front, launching a series of ferocious forward drives.
Tuttosi was the beneficiary, adding to the hat-trick she scored in last week’s big win over Japan.
Canada captain Sophie de Goede believed her forwards would continue to be a weapon at the tournament.
“They are just so technically sound and they’re powerful and athletic,” said the No.8.
“We work really well as a unit and all those parts make the difference.
“This win is massive. We came here wanting to win the World Cup and the first step is to get wins and bonus points.”
Canada’s other tries went to centre Sara Kalijuvee and speedy winger Paige Farries, who has six tries in her last four Tests.