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Irish women's rugby team confident they can beat old enemy England

Ireland take on England in the semi-finals of the IRB Women's Rugby World Cup at the Stade Jean Bouin

By Ruairdhri O'Connor

Beating New Zealand last week did a lot of things for the Irish women's rugby team; blowing their cover was one of them. This evening, having boldly gone where no senior team from this country has gone before, they bid to go a step even further.

In their way stand an English team they have beaten just once and whose traditional dominance in this fixture is a stark reminder of why Ireland's win over the Black Ferns was such a breathtaking result in the first place.

This tournament has come down to a shoot-out between New Zealand and England in each of the last three instalments, with the southern hemisphere side coming out on top every time.

Gary Street's side will have seen Ireland's success as an opportunity for themselves and, having drawn with Canada to emerge as winners of Pool A, they will be confident of reaching a fourth final on the trot.

However, Ireland have momentum on their side and come into this game as full of belief as they have ever been facing England.

They have a point to prove after going down 17-10 in Twickenham last February, with England restored to full strength after resting a number of front-liners during Ireland's run to the 2013 Grand Slam.

Ireland were ultra-competitive that day, but the abrasive nature of England's game took its toll on the bodies and Philip Doyle's side know that fronting up will be the key in Paris.

The coach has recalled the heroines of a week ago after shuffling his pack for the win over Kazakhstan, with Niamh Briggs back at full-back and Fiona Coghlan restored as captain.

"New Zealand was obviously a very good game for us and we played really well. We decided, given different types of combinations and the opposition we face, that this is the strongest team we could put out," Doyle said.

"It's good to know your opposition, we have changed since the Six Nations and I'm sure England will have changed a few things.

"But, there will be nothing really new, it is down to fine points when it is down to something like this. We believe in our processes and it is up to us to implement them properly to the maximum."

England have also made changes after their pool decider against Canada, with influential captain Katy McLean back at out-half alongside the experienced Toya Mason.

Ireland's backroom team will have pored over the tape of the draw against the North Americans for clues as to where England might be susceptible to pressure, with scrum coach Peter Bracken sure to have noticed their problems at the set-piece.

Conversely, the English will look to cause Ireland problems in the lineout by pressurising Gillian Bourke's throw, while they have tweaked their back-row by selecting the powerful Alex Matthews at blindside.

Claire Molloy has done real damage at ruck time, but the Bristol-based openside has her work cut out opposite Maggie Alphonsi, while Ireland are trusting Heather O'Brien's finger has recovered sufficiently to take the toll of battle.

Briggs' return is important as the Waterford native brings a touch of real class to the backline, while offering assurance with the boot.

Doyle is trusting the defensive capabilities of Grace Davitt and Lynne Cantwell in midfield, while hoping Jenny Murphy can continue making a massive impact when introduced early off the bench.

The Kildare native has made a massive contribution without starting a game – her all-round game really upset the tiring New Zealanders during last week's second half.

Moving from the suburban charm of Marcoussis to the recently redeveloped home of Stade Francais is another factor worth noting, with the game effectively the undercard for hosts France's meeting with the Canadians.

It means the teams will face the biggest crowd of the tournament, something Doyle expects his side to feed off.

"The bigger stage the better and this doesn't get much better," he added.

Last week, the history girls gave themselves an opportunity but they also opened the door for everyone else. This evening, they can take a step towards a first World Cup final by winning their first semi and appear undaunted by the task.

Winning the Six Nations was a massive moment and will stand to the players, but England have been here before.

Ireland fully deserve their place at the top table, now they must perform on what is undoubtedly the biggest day of their careers.

England are the favourites, but the gap is fast closing and there won't be much to separate them at the death.

KO 5pm, Sky Sports 4.


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