New Zealand coach Wayne Smith believes the Black Ferns are getting closer to the level they need to reach to retain their women's Rugby World Cup title but England continued to set the standard in the second week of the tournament.

Hosts New Zealand played some breathtaking rugby to score 10 tries to trounce Wales 56-12 and secure a spot in the quarter-finals but were troubled throughout the match by the Welsh forwards, particularly in the rolling maul and scrum.

"The attack, particularly the counterattack, was really exciting," said Smith.

"We have some work to do up front, their pack played well and put us under pressure. You always have something to work on, but we will get back on the grind this week."

England and France, who both thrashed New Zealand twice at the end of last year, played the match of the round with the Red Roses coming out on top 13-7 to extend their winning streak to 27 games and lock up a spot in the last eight.

The quality of the clash, particularly in defence, left little doubt who the top two teams in the tournament are at the moment and it would be no surprise if they ended up facing each other in the Nov. 12 final, draw permitting.

"It was a very difficult game, very tough, but it's a game against the best team in the world right now so it was normal that it was a very combative game with a lot of defence," said France coach Thomas Darracq.

France should join England in the quarter-finals after their final Pool C match against World Cup debutantes Fiji next week but will have to do it without loose forward Romane Menager, who has been ruled out after suffering a concussion.

Influential scrumhalf Laure Sansus is also a doubt and will have scans on a knee injury on Monday.

Canada, ranked third in the world, also clinched their quarter-final berth after suppressing a vibrant Italy side 22-12 on Sunday in another victory built on forward power.

Smith has said since taking over as New Zealand coach earlier this year that the Black Ferns would not be seeking to emulate their forward-dominated rivals.

"We cannot play like the other teams, we are trying to play like us," he added. "We are trying to be true to our roots and our DNA and it's giving the girls a lot of fun."

Although some of the fully professional sides have run up big scores over the first two weekends of the tournament, every team have had their moments even in the heaviest defeat.

England captain Sarah Hunter, a veteran of three previous editions, said it was the most competitive World Cup she had been involved in.

"We're not even out of the pool stage yet so it's definitely going to hot up as we go through," she added. (Reporting by Nick Mulvenney; Editing by Peter Rutherford)