Rugby World Cup: Title contenders France, England show early form at Eden Park

Favourites England and France have set the early benchmark for Rugby World Cup contenders, with comprehensive victories in their opening matches at Auckland's Eden Park.

Riding a 25-game winning streak dating back three years, the 'Red Roses' piled on 10 second-half tries to dispatch plucky newcomers Fiji 84-19, while the French eventually pulled away from South Africa to prevail 40-5.

The English drew first blood with a try to winger Claudia Macdonald in the fifth minute, but Fijiana showed they had the flair to defy their lowly ranking, unlucky not score down the right wing, before hooker Vika Matarugu was held up over the tryline. 

A concerted forward drive provided hooker Amy Cokayne with England's second try, before lock Abbie Ward made the scoreline 17-0.

The debutants finally won some reward for their enterprise, when winger Alowesi Nakoci notched up their first World Cup try and despite conceding another to England second-five Helena Rowland, they had another on the stroke of halftime to close within 24-14.

Stung by Sesenieli Donu's effort just before the break, England came out of the sheds breathing fire, and effectively ended the resistance with quick tries to Cokayne and lock Zoe Aldcroft.

Winger Lydia Thompson had a try double within a few minutes, while Macdonald brought up four, as Fiji began falling off tackles on defence, but the Pacific crowdpleasers had the last laugh, with halfback Lavena Cavuru scored their third try on the final siren. 

Earlier, fourth-ranked France showed why they were probably better than that, after achieving record victories over the champion Black Ferns during their nothern hemisphere tour last year.

By contrast, the South African women entered the tournament lightly regarded, without the pedigree of their men's side and early exchanges certainly confirmed that discrepancy in abilities.

Laure Sansus scores a try for France
Laure Sansus scores a try for France. Photo credit: Photosport

Halfback Laure Sansus opened the scoring in the second minute, converted by first-five Caroline Drouin, before tries to second-five Gabrielle Vernier and winger Emilie Boulard took the French into halftime 19-0 ahead.

The Europeans seemed on track for a big win, but their rivals lifted their game after the restart, holding them scoreless for 27 minutes, while managing a try of their own to winger Nomawethu Mabenge.

Finally, Sansus broke her team's drought with her second try, triggering a 21-point outburst that carried France clear of any potential upset.

"South Africa is a physical team, but we are so happy to start off with a win and the crowd here was amazing," said Vernier. "We could hear the French supporters in the crowd, while the New Zealand public were cheering both sides too and we are looking forward to building from here now."

Defending champions New Zealand get their campaign underway against trans-Tasman rivals Australia later Saturday night.

England 84 (Macdonald 4, Cokayne 2, Thompson 2, Ward, Rowland, Aldcroft, Infante, Powell & Dow tries; Scarratt 5 conversions, Harrison 2 conversions) Fiji 19 (Nakoci, Cavuru & Donu tries; Cavuru 2 conversions)

France 40 (Sansus 2, Vernier, Boulard, Drouin, Grisez tries; Drouin 2 conversions, Queyroi 3 conversions) South Africa 5 (Mabenge try)

Watch the Rugby World Cup live on Spark Sport or free-to-air on Three, or join Newshub on Saturday for live updates of the Black Ferns v Australia World Cup opener.