France beat South Africa at start of Women’s Rugby World Cup

Women’s rugby was thrust into the spotlight on Saturday when the opening matches of the ninth Women’s Rugby World Cup were played in front of record crowds at Auckland’s Eden Park.

France beat South Africa 40-5 in the first match of the tournament which comprises 26 matches played over 35 days.

More than 35,000 tickets have been pre-sold, already surpassing the attendance record for a women’s rugby international of 20,000 spectators who saw the 2014 World Cup final between England and Canada in Paris. With late arrivals, peak attendance is expected to exceed 40,000.

All of the top title contenders were also scheduled to appear on opening day. Later on Saturday, two-time champions and top-seeded England were due to play Fiji and five-time winners No. 2-seeded New Zealand would face Australia.

The global tournament comes at a time when the growing popularity of rugby among women is leading the sport’s global growth. As player salaries continue to lag behind men’s, increased investment from World Rugby and national rugby unions is slowly leveling the playing field.

The 12 teams in this World Cup are split into three groups of four with England and France set to face off in Group C.

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France 40, South Africa 5

Scrum-half Laur Sansus scored the first try of the World Cup after just two minutes, offering a first glimpse of the challenge France intend to bring to tournament favorites England and New Zealand.

While France are ranked No. 4 in the world, their star-studded outfit are expected to top that ranking. Sansus is one of those stars, this season’s Six Nations Championship Player of the Championship.

Inside center Gabrielle Vernier scored the second try and Emilie Boulard the third, giving France a 19-0 lead over 11th-seeded South Africa in better time than even. Vernier scored on a nice kick from opening half Caroline Drouine and Boulard went nearly the length of the field from an interception.

The score remained 19-0 at half-time as South Africa’s performance was buoyed by a solid scrum. This revival continued when South African winger Nomawethu Mabenge scored the first try of the second half.

France had become sluggish and had to find a new gear. The fact that they were so efficient again was impressive – Sansus scored his second try in the 68th minute, attacking quickly from a penalty kick tap.

Drouin scored three minutes later and France’s lead increased to 33-5. Joanna Grisez added the final try after the full-time mermaid.

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