Joanna Grisez scored a hat-trick of tries as France outclassed Italy 39-3 on Saturday to book a semi-final berth at the women’s Rugby World Cup.
After dominating most of their quarter-final in Whangarei, it took until the final quarter for the French to cut loose, scoring four of their five tries after leading 10-3 at halftime.
Speedy right winger Grisez scored the only try of the first half but grabbed two more during the late rush, while replacement hooker Laure Touye also crossed.
France’s dominant scrum also created a penalty try as they set up a semi-final against the winner of the day’s second match, between defending champions New Zealand and Wales.
Inside centre Gabrielle Vernier said it was France’s best performance at the tournament, eclipsing their tight 13-7 pool loss to tournament favourites England.
“It’s been a tough few weeks and today we proved that we are one of the best teams here,” Vernier said.
“A lot of us haven’t played at a World Cup so it’s new for us. It’s a dream come true.
“We are so happy to play a semi-final at Eden Park.”
Italy, making their maiden appearance in the tournament knockout phase, registered their only points through a Michela Sillari penalty goal.
Playing into a stiff breeze in the second half, they barely got into France’s half, not helped by yellow cards shown to Maria Magatti and Silvia Turani, both for professional fouls.
It capped a forgettable week for the Italians, whose experienced lock Sara Tounesi was suspended for 12 weeks after the tournament judiciary found her guilty of biting a Japanese opponent during last week’s final group match.
They struggled to dent a French defensive line which conceded the least points of any team in the group phase, leaking just two tries.
France opened the scoring with the game’s best try in the second minute, when fullback Emilie Boulard launched a 75m counter-attack which was finished by Grisez.
Despite playing into the wind, France held sway for most of the first half and they pulled clear with penalties to fly-half Caroline Drouin either side of the interval.
It is the eighth time France have reached the semi-finals in nine editions of the tournament, but they have never qualified for the final.
Sunday’s quarter-finals pit England against Australia and Canada against the United States.