The Stade Ernest-Wallon was buzzing on Saturday as the home side, having recovered from a loss against Ireland in pool play, managed to reach the top-four after a spirited win against Great Britain.
They will play against Series champions New Zealand, who beat Japan 29-7 in the last game of the women's competition. Their 90-points difference at the start of the tournament showed, although the loser fought well above their weight in an enjoyable quarter-final
With one spot still available for Paris 2024, the Olympic agenda will be very much alive as Fiji and Ireland will fight out the ticket to accompany home side France, New Zealand, USA and Australia.
Ireland (64 points) and Fiji (62) are in line for that spot, while it is just out of reach for and Great Britain (60) based on points for and against. Three outcomes are possible:
- If Ireland beat Fiji, Ireland will qualify for Paris 2024
- If Fiji beat Ireland, and then beat Great Britain, they will qualify for Paris 2024.
- If Fiji beat Ireland, but Great Britain beat Fiji, it will end up a three-way tie on Series points and be decided by points for and against, which is currently: Ireland -13 points, Fiji +64 and Great Britain -32.
In the business end of the tournament, Australia recovered from their earlier loss to France to beat Ireland 17-7. The Aussies controlled much of the game and were leading 17-0 going into the final seconds, following a first minute try by Teagan Levi and a second-half brace from Bienne Terita, before Eve Higgins found the space to break free and score a consolation try for the Irish.
USA then managed to beat Fiji 22-17. It was a four-try win in which they always led and Fiji failed to chase until the end, despite twelve points from Reapi Ulunisau as she scored a late brace and a conversion.
The big game was France against neighbours Great Britain, a match that had the loud fans on the edge of their seats. The visiting side opened with a try from Isla Norman Bell.
After being ruled as not having touched down earlier, France made good use of having an extra player and it was up to Joanna Grisez to open the scores on the left corner; from the restart France recovered the ball and the quick brace from the regular try-scorer came right before the end of half-time.
The second half saw eighteen-year old Lili Dezous stretching the scoreline. The British women tried to come back and scored a good try three minutes from full time but, again, the posts interfered in turning into a seven-pointer. Needing 12 points to turn the game around, they had to deal not only with a team desperate to win their first medal at home, but a crowd that pushed them with a rendition of Le Marseillese. It worked, as with no time on the clock, Lou Noel scored the fourth try which Caroline Drouin again converted for a big 28-5 win.
“Having people singing songs to us, our anthem, and supporting us was really great,” said captain Chloé Pelle.
New Zealand failed to keep the Japanese try-less in the final quarter-final. From the restart to the Black Ferns' fourth try, Wakaba Hara ran 50 meters to score under the posts. With almost a minute on the clock, the game had already been decide as tries from Portia Woodman-Wickliffe, Tyla Nathan-Wong, who added two goals, Stacey Waaka and Risi Pourie-Lane had put 24 points on the Japanese.
Pourie-Lane scored a decorative second try to ensure they won 29-7 sending a clear message to France.
Ninth to twelfth
Brazil could not keep their composure and control of the scoreline in losing 26-17 against a Canadian side that woke up in the final minutes to turn around the game.
Soon after, Spain proved too strong for a Polish side enjoying playing against the their European rivals and taking important lessons. An Ingrid Algar hat-trick and a brace from María Calvo showed the Spaniards attacking prowess as they ran in seven tries against a solitary Polish five-pointer by Natalia Pampieta.
Japan opened the second day at the Stade Ernest-Wallon in Toulouse with a remarkable five-try win against Spain that confirmed their place in the quarter-finals second to Fiji in Group C, who in turn beat Great Britain thanks to Reapi Ulunisau converting two of the three tries for the narrow two-point 19-17 win.
Pool A followed and the USA scored four of their five tries in the opening half against invited side Poland, who failed to cross the whitewash in the 31-0 loss.
Leading that group was New Zealand, finishing three from three, beating a Canadian side that was needing to find some of their brightness of yesterday. It wasn’t to be as the Black Ferns recovered from an early try to score a brace by Jorja Miller and two tries by Stacey Waaka and Sarah Hirini. Their win put them through to a quarter-final against Japan.
Ireland was too strong for a Brazilian side that has struggled to keep up with the top teams this season. Anne-Leigh Murphy Crowe’s brace led the way in the 36-7 win. Brazil’s only score came after the hooter in a one-sided win.
The game of the closing stages of pool-play was the most celebrated in the morning session. France, playing in front of a loud crowd, recovered from a 12-0 half-time deficit to score twice through the efficient Joanna Grisez’s two tries and Séraphine Okembo with seconds to play ensuring the 19-12 win that confirmed France as quarter-finalist.