Ireland’s historic victory over four-time defending champions New Zealand on Tuesday means that seven teams go into the final round of pool matches at Women’s Rugby World Cup 2014 with a semi-final place still within their reach.
Five of these teams are unbeaten with Canada, England and France having taken the maximum 10 points after two bonus point victories, while Ireland and Australia have eight having failed to pick up a try bonus point in either of their wins.
For the girls in green that is less of an issue as they will have the easier final pool match on paper against a Kazakhstan side that has conceded 126 points and 21 tries in heavy defeats by New Zealand and the USA in Pool B.
For Australia, should they be unable to hand hosts France their first defeat of 2014, their only hope of being in the mix for the best runner-up spot is to pick up both a try and losing bonus point against the Six Nations champions. Even if they achieve that it may not be good enough.
Former England captain Catherine Spencer on the key matches
The target is a simple one for England, Canada, Ireland, France and Australia – win and they will top their pool and progress to the semi-finals. Lose and any bonus point they can salvage could be crucial as well as the outcome of the Pool B match between New Zealand v USA, who both have six points.
For the three pool winners it is then just a question of which order they will be seeded in for the semi-finals. If France and either Canada or England win then a victorious Ireland will be third seeds and it could well come down to point differential to determine the top two seeds. The Red Roses currently have the best differential of the three nations after two rounds with +102 to France’s +78 and Canada’s +61.
France are the only side currently topping a pool for whom a draw would be enough to guarantee top spot, as were Ireland to be held by Kazakhstan they could be overtaken by New Zealand or USA with a bonus point win. If Canada and England were to finish all square it also may not be enough to ensure the Red Roses retain top spot in Pool A.
In that scenario were Canada to claim a try bonus point and England not then they would finish top. Twelve points, though, should be enough for the Red Roses to claim the best runner-up spot as only a French side losing to Australia with two bonus points could match that tally.
No side though would relish facing a host nation inspired by their vociferous support or an Ireland team brimming with confidence after ending the world champions’ 20-match unbeaten run spanning 16 years for a place in the WRWC 2014 final.
New Zealand may be on the back foot after suffering only their second ever WRWC defeat, but it would be foolish to count them out of the semi-final mix and USA could face a backlash from a side determined not to return home without the trophy they have held since 1998.
The Black Ferns – and the Women’s Eagles for that matter – will be targeting a bonus point win to reach 11 points to bolster their hopes of claiming the best runner-up position. New Zealand have the third best point differential (+71) going into round three, behind only England and France.
The five other teams at WRWC 2014 may not be in semi-final contention after collecting no points from two matches, but there is still plenty for them to play for with Spain, Samoa, Wales, South Africa and Kazakhstan hoping to sneak into the play-offs for fifth to eighth places.
Spain will meet Samoa in Pool A, while Wales and South Africa will be looking to score their first tries of WRWC 2014 when they meet for the second tournament in a row, the Women’s Springboks having won their pool encounter in England in 2010 only to lose in the play-off stages.
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