South Africa need just one point from their final Rugby Africa Women’s Cup Division 1 2023 match to claim the title and book their place in WXV 2.
Nomawethu Mabenge became only the fourth South African woman to score four tries in one test match – but the second in the space of a week – as the Springbok Women tightened their grip on top spot with a 48-0 win against Kenya in Antananarivo on Wednesday.
It means South Africa need only a solitary point from their encounter with hosts Madagascar on Sunday to defend the title they won in 2019.
“It was so hard, they are a physical team,” South Africa captain Chumisa Qawe said after the win over Kenya. “For a second time, we were not disciplined so it cost us a lot.”
By the time Madagascar's game with Cameroon kicked off, there was barely any space left in the stands and the huge crowd inside Stade Makis in Antananarivo were rewarded for their support with a 30-10 victory in the first-ever meeting between the sides.
As well as enjoying a dominant match in the scrum, it was a good late afternoon's work for Madagascar's two starting props, Mamisoa Rasoarimalala and Miora Rabarivelo, who accounted for the home side's first three tries before the backs added two more late on.
Springbok Women down Lionesses
South Africa breached the Kenyan try-line within four minutes of Wednesday’s opening match as Zintle Mpupha – who has herself scored four tries in a test twice, including once against the Lionesses – weaved her way over following a lineout move.
Kenya held firm for the next 10 minutes or so, before Mabenge found some space on the right wing to score her first try and help the Springbok Women build a 12-0 lead.
Lionesses captain Grace Okulu missed a long-range penalty shortly afterwards and for the rest of the half it was mainly one-way traffic.
Mabenge handed off a tackler en route to crossing for a second time in the 25th minute and, after Libbie Janse van Rensburg had missed a drop-goal attempt and the Lionesses had lost captain Sheilla Chajira to an HIA, Sizophila Solontsi wrapped up a try-scoring bonus-point for the Springbok Women.
With time running out in the first half, Okulu was sent to the sin bin and South Africa took full advantage, scoring through captain Qawe before Mabenge wrapped up her hat-trick.
Mpupha rounded off a multi-phase team move to score South Africa’s seventh try early in the second half, while the Springbok Women were themselves down to 14 players.
However, the Lionesses dug in from there and as Lusande Dumke, Mabenge and Unam Tose each spent time in the sin bin – with South Africa reduced to 13 players on two occasions – they had to work hard to cross the whitewash for an eighth and final time.
It wasn’t until the final play of the match that the Springbok Women stretched the Kenyan defence to breaking point and Mabenge was able to touch down her record-equalling fourth try. Janse van Rensburg added her fourth conversion of the match to complete the 48-0 win.
Madagascar delight huge home crowd
The Lady Makis couldn't have asked for a better start, a 50:22 inside the first 30 seconds putting them on the front foot and energising the crowd.
From that platform, they attacked well, with a blindside run from scrum-half Vonjimalala Ranorovololona and then a hit up in midfield by number eight Sarindra Raharimalala creating space for Mamisoa Rasoarimalala to power over with barely a minute gone.
Credit to Cameroon though they hit back strongly and after a succession of penalties went against Madagascar, the pressure told and winger Valdez Moudangwedi finished off an excellent team try in the right corner.
Play reverted back in favour of Madagascar and despite their try-line heroics, Cameroon were powerless to stop Raharimalala rumbling over for her second.
Madagascar then scored a third try in the 27th minute, loose-head prop Miora Rabarivelo completing a hat-trick for the front-row union.
However, Cameroon refused to lie down and the see-saw nature of the match continued when the home side lost Laurence Rasoanandrasana to the sin-bin. Having stretched the short-handed defence one way and then the other, Moudangwedi crossed for her second to put Cameroon right back in it at the break at 15-10 down.
After a high tempo first 40 minutes, the second half was a much more stop-start affair and Cameroon's chances of a comeback were thwarted by two yellow cards, to Marie Paule Ngasssa and then captain Mimosette Mouto.
As both sides tired, mistakes crept in and the only additional points came from a Nantenaina Ravololonirina penalty until Mialy Ravaoarinoro injected some much-needed quality into the match with a determined run and finish on the hour mark.
Nantenaina Ravololonirina had been involved in all of Madagascar's best passages of play and it was fitting that she scored their fifth and final try two minutes from time. With the conversion, Madagascar had doubled their points from the first half while also keeping Cameroon at bay.