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Day One: 5 talking points

We look at five key talking points from day one of the Women's Rugby World Cup. 

USA...the dark horse?

The United States game against Italy has been slightly overshadowed by other games, but it should not be.

Played at 100mph for much of the 80 minutes, it was a remarkable match with the much more experienced Italians trrying to hold on to the tail of a tiger. The USA had a very poor record coming into this, but that was all thanks to their trying out a whole raft of new players – in essence we had not seen the real USA team since 2014.

And they were a revelation, even if at times their own worst enemy.

The number of handling errors (caused, it appeared, by enthusiasm and over-ambition) were far too high and without them they would have doubled their score.

If they can settle down, and maybe after this game they will, this is a team that could cause serious damage. Runners-up spot in the pool now seems nailed on, and if they had been drawn with anyone other than England you feel they might have been looking to go even further.

Like Australia the fear is that this team will be another mayfly of women’s rugby – seen for such a short period and then lost to what might have been.

Canada... outstanding despite their separate 7s programme? 

Canada were never going to have any issues in beating Hong Kong, but the manner of the win was a sharp reminder that Canada are proper title contenders once again.

Much has changed in Canada since they reached the World Cup final in 2014, most notably the total separation of their 7s and 15s squads and programmes and on early evidence the risk Rugby Canada has taken  inseparating their two successful systems is paying off.

They are the only top nation to have taken such an approach.

New Zealand and Australia allow their players to crossover for major test games without losing contracts, while England take a cyclical approach and ask their players to switch back and forth and focus on one at a time.

As a result, Canada have worked hard to build the experience of their core players over the last three seasons, while Francois Ratier has cast the net wide to unearth new talent. 

He might well have liked access to more players who are off limits, such as the brilliant Ghislaine Landry, but on current evidence, Canada's approach seems to be working just fine. 

Asian struggles – and consequences

That Hong Kong would struggle was always assumed, but that Japan would be so blown away was a bit of a surprise. All the signs for the latter were good – huge wins in Asia, and more importantly good performances in a recent tour of Europe.

The loss of the influential Bogidraumainadave early in the second half certainly did not help Japan, and with her still on the field the score against them might have been 20 or so points less, but even so this does illustrate a problem of a lack of depth.

It is unfortunate, but we do seem to have the same problem with this tournament as we have had with previous events, in that Asia’s often unbeaten qualifiers are so far behind the rest of the world and – on this evidence – getting further behind. But when they play in isolation for everything but two weeks every four years, what chance do they have to improve?

Japan and Hong Kong’s performances – unless there is a dramatic improvement in later games – also would seem to kill off any prospect of expanding the World Cup to more than 12 teams as World Rugby have already said they will not consider it until the gaps start to close.

While it is great to have Hong Kong and Japan having a go and playing against teams at the highest level, scores like 98-0, 72-14 and whatever New Zealand will do to Hong Kong on Sunday (which hardly bears thinking about) do not help anyone.      

Australia - just how good could they be with more investment and games?

At almost every World Cup, Australia have confounded expectations, given the lack of investment and game time their top players get between tournaments.

The three years since 2014 have been considered to have been an improvement and despite that they only played five test games (albeit against the top three sides in the world). The increasing focus and success of the Australian 7s team has arguably put the Wallaroos test programme into further doubt - though the ARU have been investing in the structures beneath its national team. 

With just three players crossing over from their 7s programme, you wondered again this time if Australia could continue to compete with the sides so far ahead of them in resources. That they can consider themselves hugely unlucky to lose to the host nation, who were close to being European (Six Nations) champions just last year. is a reminder of just how wily and resilient their rugby players are and a sad reminder that they could be a world beating powerhouse test team if only given the chance.

England's time together is telling

Much has been made of England's professional status. Where you expect them to be better than everyone else is in their strength and conditioning and we'll find out in the later stages of the competition just how much extra they can offer there.

But it was in their passing game that their time together most showed for me. Katy Mclean has added so much to her game since her involvement in 7s, and her passing game was sublime yesterday as you would expect. But all around her, players like Rachael Burford Amber Reed, Emily Scarratt, Alex Matthews, Harriet Millar-Mills showcased their excellent passing skills.

When you watched Ireland later butcher numerous try scoring chances through poor passing you can see how in the games where the margins will be fine, England's skills work over the past year will be such a huge asset.