Italy and Scotland showed the benefit of their greater experience, with bonus-point wins in two excellent victories in Stellenbosch.
SCOTLAND 31-17 SOUTH AFRICA
South Africa started strongly in Stellenbosch and in the eighth minute they earned a penalty. Fly-half Libbie Janse van Rensburg kicked it over to give the Springbok Women a 3-0 lead.
Scotland then got themselves into things and a brilliant break from her own half by scrum-half Mairi McDonald nearly set up second-row Louise McMillan for a try in the 25th minute. Sixty seconds later number eight Evie Gallagher did score an unconverted try to make it 5-3.
South Africa’s heads certainly did not go down, though, and some great interplay between forwards and backs saw number eight Aseza Hele power her way through to score a try under the posts. Janse van Rensburg converted and it was 10-5 in a very entertaining match.
That was just before the half-hour mark, but by the 34th minute Scotland were 12-10 up. After some strong lineout drives, Skeldon eventually went over for a try converted by fly-half Helen Nelson.
And things got better for the Scots with the clock in the red before half-time, another lineout drive seeing Skeldon going over again. It was unconverted and it was 17-10 to Scotland.
There was no let-up in the speed and physicality of this tight match after the break, but by the 50th minute there had been no further scoring and it was still a seven-point encounter.
Scotland scored their bonus-point fourth try in the 55th minute when loose-head prop Leah Bartlett went over from yet another lineout drive. Replacement Meryl Smith converted and it was 24-10.
With 16 minutes to go, South Africa took a leaf out of the Scotland book and, from a lineout drive, replacement Roseline Botes scored their second try. Janse van Rensburg converted to cut the deficit to seven points.
Scotland thought they had scored a try through winger Francesca McGhie in the 68th minute, but it was ruled out after a TMO check for a forward pass.
South Africa’s scrum had been excellent all day and, into the final 10 minutes, it was still causing a number of problems.
While that was still the case they were still in with a chance, but a sucker punch sealed the win for Scotland. Inside-centre Lisa Thomson burst through for a try in the 76th minute with Smith converting to finish things off.
ITALY 28-15 JAPAN
It took Italy just over three minutes to score the first try in WXV as Rigoni latched onto an offload from Muzzo, following a flowing lineout move.
Michela Sillari converted to give her side a 7-0 lead, but the Azzurre had also struck early in their defeat to the Sakura 15s in Parma 13 days ago. And they would be forgiven for thinking this match was about to play out in a similar fashion as Silvia Turani and Vittoria Vecchini each knocked on with the try-line in sight.
Sillari was then sent to the sin-bin in the 15th minute for a dangerous tackle on Konako Kobayashi, allowing Japan to build some pressure in the Italian half.
Komachi Imakugi had a try disallowed for an earlier knock-on soon after, and her wing partner Misaki Matsumura was not to be denied in the 21st minute, winning the race to an expertly judged grubber kick to dot down in the right corner.
Japan fly-half Ayasa Otsuka missed the conversion to leave Italy in the lead, though, and once they were back up to 15 players, the Azzurre struck again.
Muzzo finished an almost carbon copy of the opening try, taking a Rigoni offload close to the line to score. Sillari once again dissected the uprights to add the extras.
Italy had to weather some Japanese pressure early in the second half, but once they did so they scored two tries to secure the bonus point and take the match away from their opponents.
Muzzo got the first, touching down following a brilliant break from Alyssa D’Inca, before Granzotto took advantage of some slick passing from Rigoni and Veronica Madia to score in the left corner.
Japan refused to cave, however, and some slick handling of their own provided replacement second-row Jennifer Nduka with the space to score in the 55th minute.
And they would cross the whitewash for a third time before the end as Matsumura scored her second of the match. But it was too little, too late as Italy recorded a deserved victory.