The final day of pool action in Dublin determined the Women’s World Cup semi-finalists
After three days and 18 games, the 2017 Women’s World Cup semi-finals are known – and they look set to be cracking games.
New Zealand and Canada kicked things off on day three, but this match between the teams ranked two and three in the world was nowhere near as close as expected. When the two sides met in June, the Black Ferns’ winning margin was only 12 points; two months later it was 43, the four-time champions overwhelming Canada 48-5.
It’s been a disappointing tournament to date for the 2014 finalists, their big win over Hong Kong followed up by a hard-fought 15-0 victory against Wales – the lack of a bonus point counting against them in the race for the best runners-up spot – and they simply couldn’t cope with the pace and precision of a New Zealand team that has looked sharp in all three of their games.
It was England v USA next up at UCD’s Billings Park to determine who would top Pool B. Both sides started on ten points but England started well and had the four-try bonus point wrapped up in a little over half an hour. It was a more physical confrontation than they had experienced against Spain or Italy but the forwards excelled and the rolling maul delivered four tries across the 80 minutes.
The USA didn’t crumble, though, and added a further three tries to the one they scored in the first half to secure a bonus point – and the drop in performance by England will be a worry for Simon Middleton and the back-room team.
“It was a massive game of two halves,” said England fly-half Katy Mclean. “In the first half we stuck to the plan a lot better, the position and possession battle. It was important to turn them and our set-piece has been a massive part of our game this season.
“We’re disappointed (with the second half) but we can’t take anything away from America. They wanted a bonus point to come out of group and get fourth spot, and they thoroughly deserved it. We’ll be very critical of ourselves – we need to playing for 80 minutes.”
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The final match of the day determined the semi-final line-up. Ireland needed to win to reach the last four of their own tournament having failed to pick up bonus points in the wins over Australia and Japan, but France came out firing to lead 21-0 after 30 minutes.
To Ireland’s credit they showed tremendous resolve in the second half, monopolising possession and territory, but they couldn’t get across the whitewash until the final minute and that meant their chance of a comeback was gone. Tom Tierney described his squad as “heartbroken” at missing out on the semi-finals of a home World Cup and they paid for poor first halves in all three of their pool matches.
Captain Claire Molloy said: “We met a very good France side who came at us with everything and executed very well. We made simple errors and we didn’t have the ball. Credit to France – they didn’t let us play. Without the ball you can’t play rugby.
“It was immensely frustrating when we worked hard to get into the 22 and simple handling errors let us down. I’m proud of the girls in the last five minutes, the relentless work-rate we saw in the first two matches was there again.”
France defended well when Ireland did build phases and also prevented the hosts from getting their rolling maul going by not engaging when the Irish looked to set the drive at the lineouts. Given England’s strength in this area, the defending champions will need to have a plan to deal with such tactics or one of their key attacking weapons will be nullified.
All teams will be doing their homework over the coming days ahead of Tuesday’s play-offs in Belfast.
Canada 5-48 New Zealand
Wales 39-15 Hong Kong
England 47-26 USA
Italy 8-22 Spain
Australia 29-15 Japan
France 21-5 Ireland
Tuesday 22 August Fixtures
Italy v Japan (noon, Queen’s University)
Spain v Hong Kong (2.30pm, Queen’s University)
Ireland v Australia (2pm, Kingspan)
Canada v Wales (5pm, Queen’s University)
New Zealand v USA (5pm, Kingspan)
England v France (7.45pm, Kingspan)