Exciting climax to pool stages at #WRWC2014

(IRB.COM) Friday 8 August 2014
 
 Exciting climax to pool stages at #WRWC2014
Can the French crowd inspire the hosts to a place in the semi-finals? Photo I. Picarel/IRB

The FFR headquarters at Marcoussis is brimming with excitement ahead of match day three. 

Saturday sees the final round of pool matches before Women’s Rugby World Cup 2014 heads to Stade Jean Bouin, the home of Stade Français, for the semi-finals on 13 August and the final four days later. 

The third round follows an exhilarating day on Tuesday which saw Ireland hand four-time defending champions New Zealand only their second World Cup defeat and first since 1991. 

You’d be forgiven for thinking that Ireland had won the final, such were the scenes of celebration.

Ireland full back Niamh Briggs played a key role in the victory in their first meeting with the Black Ferns, but despite the historic win the girls in green aren't getting carried away. 

Feet on the ground

“When we got back to the dressing rooms we were on cloud nine. Then our strength and conditioning coach shoved us into ice baths and recovery became the priority,” explained Briggs.

“We’d obviously created a bit of history but it will be for nothing if we don’t go on to win against Kazakhstan in the next round in order to get through to the semi-finals.

“We’ve won nothing yet so we’ve just got to keep our feet on the ground and focus really hard.”

For Briggs, the 16th man also played a huge part in the Irish victory.

“I don’t think that I’ll ever forget coming out of the tunnel for the start of the national anthems and hearing 'The Fields of Athenry' being sung. A whisper went down the line that it was just like a home match for us.”



France, like Ireland, have received huge support and the host nation have whipped their supporters into a frenzy with two impressive performances against Wales and South Africa to continue their unbeaten run in 2014.

The matches have also attracted record numbers of television viewers with just under 1.5 million watching their most recent win over South Africa. Even more could tune in when Les Bleues face Australia in the Pool C decider on Saturday.

Neither side have conceded a try to this stage, but while France will start the match as favourites, Australia coach Paul Verrell insists the Wallaroos are ready fro the challenge that awaits them.

“We have players in our ranks that have played across the world and the hostile environment won’t phase us,” Verrell said.

“This is one of the youngest Wallaroos sides Australian Rugby has ever produced and with that youth brings a great sense of confidence.”

A "great opportunity" to shine

France, though, are equally driven to finish top of Pool C and confirm their place in the semi-finals. 

“I want to win against Australia and go to semis," insisted number 8 Safi D’Niaye. “That’s all I want. Everyone knows it, we don’t want to talk about it too much but what is most important for us now is to win and move on in this tournament.”

Another mouth-watering match on Saturday is the Pool A decider between England and Canada, two nations that have met five times in WRWC history with the Red Roses winning on every occasion, a statistic the Canadians will be looking to address.

“If you want to win the World Cup you must be able to beat the best teams in the world,” said Canada coach Francois Ratier, whose charges sit below England in the Pool A standings only on point differential. 
 
“We knew going into this tournament that Saturday’s game against England was going to be a big challenge for us, but I see it as a great opportunity to show that we can compete with anyone in the World Cup.”

Pushed to the limit

England have made seven changes to the starting line-up that beat Spain 45-5 in round two with Ceri Large continuing at fly half in place of captain Katy McLean. Among the players returning is flanker Maggie Alphonsi, who is relishing the challenge of facing Canada.

“We’re seeing every game as our World Cup final," admitted Alphonsi. “Our match against Canada is going to be a good one no matter who wins because we’re both up for it.

“You don’t work hard every day and give up your career just to look forward to easy games. We look forward to the tough games like this because these are the opportunities to show the world what England are made of.

“Every game has been a tough game but I think that this challenge against Canada will push us to the limit.”

The two other nations in contention for the semi-finals are New Zealand and the USA, who come face to face in Pool B on Saturday. The Black Ferns have never failed to reach the semi-final stage in WRWC history with the Women's Eagles the only other team to have beaten them back in the 1991 semi-finals.

READ WHAT TEAMS NEED TO DO TO REACH THE SEMI-FINALS OF #WRWC2014 >>

There will also be plenty to play for when Spain meet Samoa in Pool A and the Welsh tackle South Africa in Pool C with all four sides searching for a first victory of WRWC 2014, and first tries in the case of the latter two.

Follow the action from the final pool games on rwcwomens.com and on social media by using #WRWC2014 or @irbwomens on Twitter or on the IRB Women’s Rugby Facebook page.