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World beaters

THE Irish women's rugby team are one win away from making their first World Cup semi-final after stunning New Zealand 17-14 at Marcoussis on the edge of Paris to take control of Pool B yesterday, causing one of the great upsets in Women's Rugby World Cup history.

It was only the Black Ferns' second defeat at a World Cup since the tournament began in 1991, ending a run of 20 games unbeaten during which they've won the trophy four times in a row.

In a quite brilliant performance, Ireland dominated the holders at the set-piece in the first half only to come away trailing 8-7 at the break.

They could have been discouraged. Instead, they kept to their game plan for left wing Alison Miller's try (inset) and full-back Niamh Briggs' kicking to see them through in a thriller.

"It's huge. It's a team we respect, we've watched, we probably have learned a lot from over the years. They are at the top of the world," said Ireland captain Fiona Coghlan.

"That's where we said we wanted to be. We're not there yet. This is only step two of the process. But we're on the right track".

The Irish dominated the ball and the territory for Briggs to shoot an early penalty, with New Zealand seizing on a loose ruck to counter for full-back Selica Winiata to touchdown.

"The heads never dropped because we were on the same page," said Coghlan.

"It was very controlled. Even when they went ahead, we knew what we were going to do. We were going to go back up there and score and take control of the game."

The outcome all came down to the willingness of Briggs to shoulder the pressure of a 70th-minute penalty from the right to recover a lead Ireland never relinquished.

New Zealand coach Brian Evans was magnanimous in defeat.

"We're very disappointed, but fair play to Ireland. They outmuscled us, they forced errors, but huge congratulations to them for that," he said.

The Irish are one more win away from the last four with Kazakhstan to come on Saturday. They have added the NZ scalp to that of the USA (23-17) last Friday to stand on the brink of history.

Surely, they will not be stopped by a Kazakhstan collective that was soundly taken out by USA (47-7) yesterday and by New Zealand 79-5 in round one.

The final is on August 17 at Stade Jean Bouin, the home of Stade Francais.


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