Semi finals: England edge titanic battle

(IRB.COM) Wednesday 1 September 2010
By Duncan Wood
From Twickenham Stoop
 
 Semi finals: England edge titanic battle
England's Maggie Alphonsi is tackled by Tricia Brown - Photo: rugbymatters.net

Job done for England, who confirmed their place in Sunday's Women's Rugby World Cup 2010 final against New Zealand, but Gary Street's side were made to work awfully hard for their 15-0 win over Australia.

For the best part of an hour, based on a huge forward dominance, England pummelled the Wallaroos time and again. Yet there has never yet been an Australian sporting side that will throw in the towel and today was no exception.

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England will wonder how they only scored 12 points until a late penalty settled the nerves but it was down to individual errors from the home side and superb spirit and defence from the visitors.

England had some scary moments in the final quarter and will know that they will have to step it up a gear if they are to deny the Black Ferns a fourth crown.

Kicking duel

The tension was palpable in the opening stages and the crowd at the Stoop were treated to something of a rarity in this tournament - a tactical kicking duel.

Finally keeping the ball in hand, England centre Alice Richardson almost blasted her way clear with a break from first receiver but the England pack muscled their way to the first try with skipper Catherine Spencer just making the line after a powerful five metre scrum after only seven minutes.

England looked composed and also seemingly determined to play the game in the Australia half with fly half Katy McLean kicking astutely and pinning the Wallaroos back.

Australia struggled to get out of their own half while England winger Fiona Pocock enjoyed two good breaks, although the second was halted by a shuddering try-saving hit from Nicole Beck.

Pocock was shaken and receiving treatment but her team mates stayed focussed and Amy Turner gave Danielle Waterman just enough room to score on the blindside. 12-0 after 23 minutes was a promising start for the home side.

The Wallaroos were far from done though and gave the England defence a good work out as the game went past the half hour mark before a steal from Maggie Alphonsi relieved the pressure.

As half time approached, the England pack went for the jugular as a powerful catch and drive almost fashioned a try for scrum half Amy Turner but the ball squirted loose in the act of touching down as the Wallaroos creaked but made it to half time still in touch.

England on top after break

The England pack duly picked up where they left off and the Wallaroos eight were definitely on the back foot. England huffed and puffed, but a lack of precision and some excellent defence prevented any further addition to the score in the opening minutes.

Indeed, the Wallaroos' work in defence seemed to inspire the visitors as they began to work their way back into the game.

As Australia started to threaten, a slight air of anxiety crept around the Stoop and Danielle Waterman had to put in a tremendous defensive tackle to half the flying Beck.

Momentum was certainly with the Wallaroos and Heather Fisher's yellow card on 68 minutes gave them further hope. Down to 14, England were stretched but hanging on.

England weathered the storm and were thankful for a late McLean penalty to clinch the win. But there will be lots for them to think about ahead of Sunday's big game against New Zealand.

POST MATCH REACTION

England flanker Maggie Alphonsi: "I don't think I can ever question their effort, they have always given everything they have got and possibly tonight we got pretty close but in fairness the English defended very well and looked after that start they got in the second half.

"I did say at half time to be 12-0 down without the ball basically for probably 35 minutes was encouraging and certainly the fact that if we could get ball we would do ok. We looked pretty good for a while there with the ball but we just couldn't get that try."

Australia coach John Manenti: "I don't think I can ever question their effort, they have always given everything they have got and possibly tonight we got pretty close but in fairness the English defended very well and looked after that start they got in the second half.

"I did say at half time to be 12-0 down without the ball basically for probably 35 minutes was encouraging and certainly the fact that if we could get ball we would do ok. We looked pretty good for a while there with the ball but we just couldn't get that try."

Australia captain Cheryl Soon: "It was a very tough day at the office, we did the best that we could but it just wasn't enough in the end. We weren't going to go down without a fight. We said from the start we weren't going to give up no matter what happened.

"I thought our defence was absolutely courageous - we held them out. I don't think the scoreline was an indication of how the game actually went. It could have been a lot higher, but that just shows how courageous we are in our defence. We're Aussie battlers and we never give up.

"Inexperience let us down in the end; we don't have a lot of Test matches. If we did, I think we'd be taking the cup home. We just need more Test matches, ideally against New Zealand, South Africa - a mini Tri Nations would be nice."