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France turn on style in the second half to progress to last four
Winger Joanna Grisez led the way with a try hat-trick in this quarter-final triumph over Italy.
France scored 29 points in the second half to defeat Italy and become the first team through to the Rugby World Cup 2021 semi-finals.
At the Northland Events Centre in Whangārei, the French led 10-3 at the interval and then upped things in the second half to come out on top 39-3.
These two sides - four and five respectively in the most recent World Rugby Women’s Rankings powered by Capgemini - have had some great battles over the last couple of years, but France were the better side here in New Zealand.
They got off to the perfect start when they scored a try after just two minutes.
A clearance kick by Italy was run back well by French full-back Emilie Boulard and when she was tackled she got the ball away to winger Joanna Grisez who did the rest and went in under the posts. Fly-half Caroline Drouin converted for 7-0.
Italy were then forced into an early change when tight-head prop Lucia Gai went off with Sara Seye coming on in her place.
Just after the first quarter of the match, Drouin missed a penalty for France and it stayed at 7-0 until just before half-time.
In a flurry of activity prior to the interval, centre Michela Sillari kicked a penalty to get Italy on the scoreboard before winger Maria Magatti was yellow carded for them.
A Drouin penalty made it 10-3 to France and they knew they would then spend the first nine minutes in the second half with a player advantage too.
With the extra body they had plenty of possession in the opening exchanges of the second half and, seven minutes in, they thought they had scored their second try.
Number eight Charlotte Escudero showed good power and dived over the Italy try-line, but she knocked the ball on in the act of scoring and it stayed at 10-3.
Despite their territorial dominance, France’s play was being blighted by inaccuracies, however, they did manage to add three points through a penalty by Drouin just before Magatti returned to the field.
Italy were trying to get a foothold in the game, but they could not get out of their own half and, on the hour mark, France once again looked like they had scored their second try.
This one came through Boulard, but again it was ruled out by referee Hollie Davidson and TMO Ben Whitehouse and it stayed at 13-3.
It only remained that way for 60 seconds though as from the resultant scrum France were awarded a penalty try.
To add insult to injury, Italy had loose-head prop Silvia Turani yellow-carded and they were 17 points down.
France then scored three tries in quick succession between the 65th and 70th minutes.
The first came from replacement hooker Laure Touye and then Grisez scored two to complete her hat-trick. One of them was converted by Drouin and one by replacement Lina Queyroi and suddenly it was 39-3.
Italy were down and out, but they brought plenty to this tournament and in the closing stages their legendary player Manuela Furlan got an emotional run out off the bench following a knee injury.
That was her moment, but ultimately it was France’s day here.
France centre Gabrielle Vernier said afterwards: “I am so proud of the team and to be in a semi-final is a dream come true.”