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Down to the final four: Who will be key to their team making the final?

By Matt Merritt
Portia Woodman of New Zealand runs the ball during the Rugby World Cup 2021 Quarterfinal match between New Zealand and Wales at Northland Events Centre on October 29, 2022 in Whangarei, New Zealand.

Here we are, after a flurry of noise and colour, with only four games left to play in Rugby World Cup 2021. After four weeks of intense sleep deprivation and excessive coffee consumption (and that’s just those of us watching from here in the UK) we’re left with the best of the best about to face off in the semi-finals.


So far, it’s been a hugely entertaining tournament, the group stages in particular were a huge amount of fun. The emergence of Fijiana as arch entertainers, France almost stopping the Red Roses juggernaut and Giada Franco’s mum are just a few highlights that we’ll all remember for years to come.

In the quarter finals themselves we’ve returned to business as usual, with the top seeded teams all comfortably securing their places in the final four. All four teams have played some consistently excellent rugby with a few standout players particularly catching the eye. Here are just a few who will be key to their team progressing to the final.

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Canada’s captain Sophie de Goede is a very special player. This isn’t news to Canadian fans, or anyone who watched her during her time with Saracens Women for that matter, but it’s worth stating nonetheless. Not only is de Goede a barnstorming back row, strong enough to take shifts as a lock, dynamic enough to be a regular try scorer, with an engine that regularly sees her among the top ranks in terms of metres gained, but she consistently provides her team with tenacious defensive performances too. All that and she’s also kicking conversions with enviable accuracy.

Next week she’ll clash with the Red Roses back row and she’ll not have faced a more formidable unit. It would be easy to make a case for any of them, indeed for most of the Red Roses team, as ones to watch, but right now Marlie Packer is on the form of her life, seeming to find a new gear with every outing, from try-scoring to ferocious tackles by way of a knack for a turnover. Packer is also a vocal presence who the rest of the England team look to for words of encouragement when heads might otherwise drop. In short, she’s the heartbeat of Simon Middleton’s team.


Flipping across to the other semi-final and the Black Ferns aren’t short of choices. Stacey Fluhler has been superb in the centres, everyone who didn’t already realise Ruby Tui was awesome has fallen in love with her post-match interviews… but for me it has to be Portia Woodman. The winger snatched the record for most World Cup tries over the weekend and has been on deadly form in every game. A former World Player of the Year in both 15s and sevens, don’t be shocked to see her on the shortlist once more.


If you’d told me a month ago, I would be writing this I would have assumed Laure Sansus would be the leading name for Les Bleus, but sadly with her tournament cut short and her retirement announced that isn’t to be. Pauline Bourdon has been excellent in the nine shirt since her partner was injured, and Madoussou Fall is imperious as ever in the engine room of the pack.

For me though, Gabrielle Vernier has been immense for her team. A distributor, a hard-hitting runner and a tenacious defender, she’s kept the French backline ticking, especially when Caroline Drouin at ten goes walkabout. Vernier showed her value against England in the group stages and should France find their way past the hosts next weekend she will surely be in the thick of it all.

Let’s look ahead then and see how next Saturday will pan out. I don’t have a crystal ball to hand but I’ll give predictions a go anyway. If the players I’ll be keeping an eye on tell us one thing, it’s that the first semi-final will be won through the forwards while the second may well see the backs taking control.


First up England v Canada: it will be a pitched battle and if the conditions are anything like we saw last weekend this will definitely be a game for set piece fans to revel in. Ultimately, I don’t see the Canucks having quite enough to keep the Red Roses at bay and I think England will find their way into the final.

The second game is harder to call. My head says France will triumph; they have beaten New Zealand twice in the last twelve months after all. My heart is quick to point out that this is a much different Black Ferns team though and they are playing some wonderful rugby. I’m going to give the hosts the edge, crowd support is always a factor in these games and they’ll have the lion’s share of the audience behind them, so chalk up a Black Ferns win.

So there you have it, hardly surprising but these two teams are favourites for a reason. As for who wins the final… well I’ll be picking England, of course.


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