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Ireland second best in RWC semi

Ireland's glorious adventure at the Women's World Cup came to a dispiriting 40-7 conclusion at the hands of England in the semi-final at Stade Jean Bouin yesterday.

It was a deflating way to end a record-breaking run to the semi-finals which included a first ever scalp of New Zealand. This built up an air of confidence that was mercilessly taken away by the White Roses.

The Irish had to put aside the simple fact that England had won 18 out of 19 previous meetings between the countries at this level. They came with the better form.

In fact, they talked themselves up in a fashion similar to Eddie O'Sullivan's men before the 2009 World Cup, veteran centre Lynne Cantwell openly admitting they had the self-belief to win the competition, not just cause a one-off upset.

There was even indecision by England from the beginning when Ireland full-back Niamh Briggs' kick-off was allowed to bounce in between three players.

Tigerish openside Claire Molloy was in like a flash to hold up a maul for a scrum turnover. But, the Irish were wheeled and driven back in a sign of things to come.

England earned the territory that forced Irish wing Ashleigh Baxter into a try-saver on big centre Emily Scarratt before the Irish lineout fed left wing Alison Miller for their first real threat.

The green lineout took a second ball against the throw through flanker Paula Fitzpatrick to move with menace out wide, Grace Davitt pounding down the right, Lynne Cantwell almost skating through on the left.

It led to a multi-phase possession that owed everything to Irish patience and perseverance between backs and forwards, led by the quick feet of lock Sophie Spence, for hooker Gillian Bourke to ground the ball from a textbook lineout and maul.

Briggs drove over the conversion for a confidence booster and a 7-0 lead in the 17th minute that could have planted a seed of doubt in English minds.

However, the scrum was becoming a problem, No 8 Heather O'Brien having to deal with dirty ball on the backfoot. It was from here England went through the phases against a resilient and well-organised defence.

When England number eight Sarah Hunter was stopped short, prop Rochelle Clark picked and drove for the line to leave two points in it in the 27th minute.

Six minutes later, two more Irish scrums disintegrated for England to earn a shot at goal which was taken by centre Emily Scarratt. The Irish had to hold firm.

They couldn't. Crucially, Briggs' restart travelled beyond the dead-ball line to cough up possession on halfway. England went left. The thundering Scarratt was taken down by Baxter.

The recycle came for right wing Katherine Merchant to fend off Alison Miller's too-high tackle for a superb try, converted from the touchline by Scarratt for 15-7 in the 37th minute.

Once again, it was Scarratt's size and power that caused problems for the Irish midfield to earn a penalty which she easily dispatched for 18-7 on the break.

The Irish had to stop England's rhythm. It just didn't happen. Lynne Cantwell caught Scarratt from behind. Molloy couldn't stay on her feet at the ensuing ruck. Scarratt nailed another penalty.

Ireland were not done. They countered off broken play from prop Ailis Egan. Miller tested Merchant on the outside. But, the attack fizzled out.

The previously reliable Irish lineout was starting to crack and the scrum could not be repaired. The combined effect of set-piece malfunctions put England where they wanted to be for left wing Kay Wilson to seal the deal before the hour.

The all-court action from England was just too much to cope with, their replacement Marlie Packer powering to the whitewash for a fourth try and seizing on a grubber for her second in the 75th minute.

These Irish players will be too hurt to absorb what they have achieved this month. They have been able to move beyond a previously best-placed seventh into a third-fourth place play-off on Saturday.

There is one more game to go, one more step forward to take.

WOMAN OF THE MATCH: EMILY SCARRATT - The England centre was an unstoppable force in the wide channels and an able goal-kicker

TURNING POINT: Kat Merchant beat Alison Miller in the 37th minute for Emily Scarratt's conversion to create a two-score lead.


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