Underdogs challenge ahead of Women’s Rugby World Cup Round of 16

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WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) — The Women’s Rugby World Cup quarter-finals appear to promise one-sided matches and a scheduled meeting in the semi-finals of the four top-ranked teams — England, France, New Zealand and Canada.

The defending champion and hosts New Zealand on Saturday will face Wales who they beat 57-0 a week ago in the group stage. Canada will also face a rematch on Sunday against the United States, which they beat 29-14 last weekend.

Third-placed France take on Italy on Saturday and top-seeded England take on Australia on Sunday in matches that weren’t held in a group.

Although the outcome of the quarter-finals is considered by some to be predictable, the underdogs promise to fight.

Australia’s Wallaroos have the toughest task against an England side who extended their world-record winning streak to 28 Tests with a 75-0 victory over South Africa in the final round of group matches. England’s streak – a record for both women and men – began in 2019 and their winning margin averaged 38 points.

Australia full-back Lori Cramer has told the Sydney Morning Herald that her teammates are not intimidated by England’s impressive record. Cramer said Australia were improving with every game and showed a shocking ability when they led New Zealand 17-0 in the tournament opener.

“It’s easy to look at the stats and how they haven’t been beaten in so long, blah, blah,” Cramer said. “But every game you play is closer to your first loss. It can’t last forever. Me personally, I like to be an outsider. We really accept being outsiders, the pressure is on them.

Wales are also defiant ahead of their game against New Zealand’s Black Ferns, despite having a 57-point gap to close after last week’s defeat.

“All eyes are going to be on the Black Ferns, everyone is going to expect them to win,” Wales captain Siwan Lillicrap wrote in a column for the BBC. “We are happy to slip quietly under the radar and hopefully bring about one of the biggest upsets in women’s football.

“We have never beaten them before. Saturday would be a good day to write history.

Head coach Wayne Smith says New Zealand realized from their previous meeting with Wales that Saturday’s game will be physical and the Black Ferns will need to stay focused.

“It’s about the attitude of playing well against Wales because to be fair they beat us physically in that first game we played,” Smith said. “It’s an opportunity for our women to show that we can match them (physically). I want you to have the right attitude. When the boots are on, you turn on. That’s what we try to do.

France have already lost to Italy once this year, in their last warm-up game before the World Cup. Captain Gaelle Hermet said her players were determined to avoid a repeat.

“We’re looking forward to being on the pitch, to being able to play because we know it’s a special game,” Hermet said. “It’s a game with a lot of stakes where it’s either you pass or it breaks down.

“We want to galvanize ourselves a little by telling ourselves that it promises to be a big game.”

Italy head coach Andrea Di Giandomenico said his players wanted to “enjoy the moment”.

“For me, France are really difficult because they have different attacking options,” said Di Giandomenico. “We know that France wants to win this Rugby World Cup. In each competition played by France, they play to win. There is nothing for us to lose.

Canada have won their last six games with the United States and are hoping to reach the semi-finals for the first time since 2014.

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