South Africa secured the biggest win in their history – the first against one of the world’s top six teams – on Tuesday with a 26-23 victory over USA at the Women’s Nations Cup 2011 in Ontario, Canada.
The victory, secured by two late tries by replacement wing Janine Felix, was also South Africa’s first in the tournament and came after they suffered heavy defeats against hosts Canada (52-17) and England (46-8) in their two previous matches.
South Africa are an improving nation in the Women’s Game and in the last 18 months have managed their first ever Test victories away from home – beating Kazakhstan and Scotland in two-match series – and also upsetting Wales in the pool stages of Women’s Rugby World Cup 2010.
The two sides will meet again on Saturday in the third place play-off and South Africa will be hoping for a repeat performance against a Women’s Eagles side that came within minutes of beating defending champions England on the opening day.
The skies cleared just minutes before the kick-off at Appleby College following heavy rain and after a patchy start it was the USA who made the early running, Sadie Anderson kicking two penalties and converting Vanesha McGee’s try to edge her side ahead 13-3.
However, South Africa came roaring back with some direct running leading to tries by centre Daphne Scheepers and prop Cebisa Kula to send the two sides in locked 13-13 at half time. Once more, though, USA pulled ahead through Kaelene Lundstrum and Katie Dowly tries.
The South Africans, though, weren’t finished yet and as the Women’s Eagles tried to pin them in their own half there was still space for Felix to take two clever offloads and race down the other end to snatch victory and spark huge celebrations at the final whistle.
“We worked very hard on our preparations for this game during the week,” admitted South Africa coach Denver Wannies. “We knew coming into the competition that there would be certain matches we would be targeting, and this was one of those. On the day it worked out for us.
“We managed to hold our structure very well in this match, and that is something we have spoken a lot about. What is important now is that we continue working on improving our discipline and our penalty count for the final game this coming Saturday.”
The last match of the round robin stage saw defending champions England take on hosts Canada with both sides already assured of a rematch in the final on Saturday after both overcoming USA and South Africa.
Canada had failed to score in their two previous meetings with England, but while they managed to address that statistic, they still ended up on the losing side after replacements Maggie Alphonsi, Amy Garnett and Natasha Hunt scored second half tries to seal a 22-10 victory.
Both sides created opportunities in the first half but it was England who took the lead through Emily Scarratt’s penalty, only for Cheryl Phillips to round of a well-worked move and give Canada a slender 5-3 advantage.
England, though, would go in leading 8-5 at half time after Hunt scored her first try for her country to regain an advantage they never relinquished.
With the experienced figures of Alphonsi and Garnett, making her 99th appearance for England, entering the fray England resumed with intent and were rewarded when Alphonsi, a standout performer at WRWC 2010 on home soil, charged over the line for England’s second try.
Kayla Mack gave Canada hope with a try 10 minutes from time to cut the deficit to 15-10, but there was to be no fairytale comeback for the hosts with Garnett powering her way over the line to the delight of England head coach Gary Street.
“This was a very satisfying and rewarding experience against a tough and physical Canada side. Once again, I put pressure on our young team by playing different combinations and experiments but we came through with flying colours.
“Canada played as well as I have seen them since 2006 and their physical and kick-orientated game takes time to breakdown. We are now looking forward to Saturday’s final. We still have plenty of fresh players so we are relishing the opportunity of playing Canada again.”
His Canadian counterpart John Tait added: “We made mistakes that we planned on not making. We were a little bit overwhelmed and we let it get to us, but we’re looking forward to Saturday because we can do better than that.”
Women's Nations Cup fixtures and results
Tuesday, 2 August
Canada 52-17 South Africa
USA 11-15 England
Friday, 5 August
England 46-8 South Africa
Canada 35-17 USA
Tuesday, 9 August
South Africa 26-23 USA
Canada 22-10 England
Saturday, 13 August
14:00 - Third place play-off
16:00 - Final
All times local