Red Roses favourites for World Cup glory ahead of knockout stages

The Women’s Rugby World Cup 2021 New Zealand begins its knockout stages this weekend – with England still firm favourites to win the trophy.

The Red Roses will face Australia in their quarter final at 1.30pm local time on Sunday (1:30am GMT) in the first game of a double header at the Waitakere Stadium in Auckland.

English number eight Sarah Hunter is set to make her 138th appearance when she runs out as captain, and in doing so will become England’s most-capped player of all time in both the men’s and women’s game.

She said: “The support has been absolutely incredible. Knowing that we’ve got our Red Roses fans behind us means everything.”

Their opposition, ranked sixth in the world, come into the game after two narrow wins against home nations sides Wales and Scotland.

England will want to put the tie to bed early to avoid any last minute upsets from a Wallaroos side which have battled to the last minute in all of their pool matches.

The odds are stacked in the Red Roses’ favour – they have never lost to Australia in international tests.

Some 150 kilometres to the north, hosts New Zealand will face Wales for the second time this tournament at the Northland Events Centre in Whangarei, after the Black Ferns overpowered the Welsh in their second group game winning 56-12.

Wayne Smith’s side will have to contend with Welsh defensive machine Alex Callender, who leads the tournament tackle count with 62 across 3 games.

The 22-year-old Worcester Warrior has combined with back-row teammates Sioned Harries and Bethan Lewis for a whopping 156 tackles in the group stages.

France will look to reassert their dominance over Italy in the only all-European clash of the weekend, having lost to the Azzuri for just the third time in their history in a warm-up match for this World Cup.

Les Bleus – who were pipped 13-7 by England in a ferocious group game in Pool C a fortnight ago – have finished third at the tournament a record six times, but will be determined to take the extra step and reach the final, something they have never done before.

The impressive Caroline Drouin, who made her France debut in 2017 aged just 21 at the previous Rugby World Cup in Ireland, retains her position at fly half.

The Stade Rennais star will be hoping to repeat her mature performance against England, where she controlled the tempo and executed a delightful crossfield kick for France’s sole try in the game.

Back in Auckland, Canada and USA will face off in the last quarter final of the weekend in an all-North American clash that sees the two sides play each other for the second time this tournament.

The Maple Leafs – one of just two sides to take a maximum 15 points from the group stage – will have their sights set on emulating their convincing 29-14 win against their noisy neighbours.

Exeter Chiefs hooker Emily Tuttosi has been a revelation for Canada this tournament, topping the try-scoring charts with six in just three games.

Speaking after Canada’s win over Japan in their opening game and a personal hat trick of tries, she said: “We’ve been waiting for this tournament for a long time – it’s what we’ve been working for and hopefully it’s a great building block for the rest of the tournament.”

Early risers in the UK and rugby fans around the world will have plenty to feast their eyes on in what promises to be an enthralling weekend of action in Aotearoa.

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