Ready for RWC2021 semi-finals: teams feeling the pressure

Ready for RWC2021 semi-finals

Supporters across the globe are now ready for the RWC2021 semi-finals, which start on Saturday, November 5 at Eden Park: #ENGvCAN #NZLvFRA

The best women’s rugby players have laid down their credentials at this RWC (Rugby World Cup), with England and New Zealand holding elite positions, while Canada and France are ‘biting at their heels’. With all due respect, the winning sides were in praise of the defeated quarter-finalists, yet the evidence is clearly in the weight of the victorious sides.

Read below comments from player’s and coaches, with sides in their deepest of preparations now. Knockout football yes, with so much more expectations that player’s like Black Ferns Stacey Fluher (see main photo) are fiercely aware of.

Asked by Last Word on Sport directly what was the difference between reaching the 2017 semi-finals, than here at this 2021 New Zealand tournament. She said, “it’s probably a little bit more pressure, we’re playing at home. It is against France, who we didn’t get to play in the last World Cup, and we know their strengths.”

So across the qualified teams for this event’s RWC2021 semi-finals, knowledge and awareness of opposition strengths is a key strategy, for any hope of progressing further in this tournament.

Ready for RWC2021 semi-finals

Fluher’s sentiments were echoed by her teammates in media statements, with head coach Wayne Smith talking up the French threat, even while observers saw little in Les Bleuets win over Italy to justify the concern. Not many thought a great deal of the opening 50 minutes, until the last four tries boosted France’s scoreline to 39-3. They outperformed Italy for sure, yet up against the Black Ferns it will be a different story.

What is true is that, France has only once failed to reach the semi-finals [in 1998]. Similarly to the Black Ferns [2014], who will carry an unbeaten trend at Rugby World Cup tournaments since then. Does that intimidate teams? Yes it should, even though the last two results have gone to France. That was a long time ago, and any rugby fan watching both quarter-finals would have noticed which side had the more impetus to cross the line.

On Saturday night, November 5, past records will be set aside. Even the incredible 29 game winning streak from England must be put to one side, as Canada have built well to secure their pathway to these RWC2021 semi-finals.

Canada hopes to make surprise assault on England objective

To achieve anything significant, the Canadian women have to ‘play the game of their lives’. That is still one game away from the Rugby World Cup final, so it is saying a lot that England v Canada might be the ultimate match-up. But in terms of the required effort, it is the most important game in Rugby Canada’s history – both women’s and men’s team’s history.

Their skipper, Sophie de Goede needs her girls to enter the contest on an even playing field. Telling media that, “We know we are the underdogs going into this game against England, but it’s a spot we love to be in as Canadians. We’re excited to come out fighting.”

That is the best attitude, as it will need to be a fight – not physical; Canada certainly needs better discipline to play out the 80-minutes with a full complement of 15 players. It will be tactical kicking, then challenging at line out time, otherwise, the machine that is England, might begin ‘to roll on’ with little that de Groode or her teammates could do about it.

England endured the harshest conditions of all the RWC2011 quarter-finals, with pelting rain greeting the players. Even the smiles from record-breaking captain Sarah Hunter and 50-cap player Sarah Bern each handled the occasion with the utmost class. Very much at home in those conditions, Australia only bothered the Red Roses line once. Every other attacking move was buffeted away, which is what Canada must study. How to break down this quality England structure?

One key player they must place a lot of focus on is Marlie Packer. Another immense performance from her, three tries which is astonishing for such a dynamic rugby forward [of any gender]. Her ability to be in the right place, at the right time, is a real threat to any team – both Canada, and to New Zealand.

Simon Middleton was quoted as saying, “We talked about playing in the right areas of the field and being patient, clinical with opportunities and not giving Australia opportunities. We kicked well, we chased well, we had a lot of defensive tackles and put a lot of pressure on them. Everything fed in and especially our set piece was phenomenal today as it has been throughout this tournament.

“We showed today that, even though conditions are horrendous at times, we can go 40 points against a really good opposition.

“Canada are an outstanding side and are really well drilled with a great set piece and are very well organised and coached. Whichever team comes through will be a very formidable challenge”. Respectful as ever, yet it will take the very very best from Canada to halt England from her.

And whether it be New Zealand or France in the final, fans will bet on England going deep into this tournament.

France will need to improve two-fold to halt New Zealand

France coach Thomas Darracq praised his group after Saturday’s win over Italy. He said, “to reach the last four was one of our first objectives. It’s done. In the end the first objective of qualification is done. We will work towards next weekend.”

His matter-of-fact appraisal sums up his squad’s progress at this tournament. Like a procedure, they have been clinical while New Zealand are ‘expressive’. Is that the tables turned, in regards to how French rugby teams once played? Yes and No. Modern French teams – like the Under 20 World Champions – focus on defensive systems; with Darracq underlying that fundamental. “It’s one of the strong points we’ve asked of this new staff since the beginning to have a very strong, very effective defence. It’s also the profile of our team and it’s true that we work a lot on this strong point and we have to continue to work hard to continue to perform as well.”

Against South Africa, they appeared to be shaken by the tenacity of the African women. Against England, their power game held until they tried to alter that pattern, so it was no surprise that Darracq and Gabrielle Vernier conceded the importance of the side’s attention to detail. “A semi-final is a match with a lot at stake and for that, we will have to be accurate in the ruck areas, in the battle areas, because each of the two teams will really want to show the best and for us to put all our heart and all our commitment as we know how to do”, Vernier said.

What they need to do though is twice as difficult as anything they’ve encountered yet in 2022. More aggressive than Six Nations opponents, with New Zealand a totally different prospect – one few seem to be matching here in New Zealand – an average scoreline of just under 40 per game.

England are possibly their rival, just not (it appears at this point) France. So a 100% improvement is required!

Nothing is impossible – something Wayne Smith is warning his players about [2007]. Realistically, history might not be the prime motivation. Performance is more likely to be the critical factor Black Ferns fans focus on.

Black Ferns must handle internal/external pressures

As Fluher said previously, the difference from 2017 is the level of pressure. How the Black Ferns handle it is a big factor in how far they progress in their home tournament – though they are surely the most laid back of the quarter-finalists.

And with such influencers in their coaching camp, like Sir Graham Henry, and motivational encouragement from two-time winning captain, Richie McCaw, the mental side of their game is as important as their wondurous ability to ‘convert space and time’ into five points.

Scoring with such frequency, key players like Portia Woodman are strike weapons that France is lacking. Joanna Grisez is one player that French supporters can group around, yet one attacking player cannot create the balance of defence and attack. The Ferns carry that balance, working seamlessly from one side of the park to the other, with a flow others must be weary of.

Head coach Wayne Smith said “There was still things that still didn’t quite function today but that was probably the best we have played all year. Some of the rugby we played was champagne rugby.”

Speaking of champagne, his vintage bottle is Woodman, who now holds the individual try scorers record in ALL Rugby World Cups. An amazing record, with seven in this event [to date]. So her threat is very real, yet the fact that it is France and New Zealand has a factor of revenge associated with it. Woodman told World Rugby, “France are a big side. You watch their defence, they are a blue line right across and not a lot gets through. Up front, they are really strong but I think our girls showed they have that capacity today.

“With our back line, I trust our skills and I trust our moves but it is going to be a really hard battle.”

External pressures include England, who must be a huge concern for the entire New Zealand squad [if not all their supporters combined]. The Red Roses seem to be on an ‘unstoppable march’, so this Saturday all four teams go in with individual objectives, yet all are fighting for the same right to be a part of the RWC2011 semi-finals and advance to the Cup final on November 12.


Top try scorers at the 2021 Rugby World Cup (three or more tries) after Week Four:

7 – Portia Woodman NZL  (2017 = 13 tries)

6 – Emily Tuttosi CAN

4 – Claudia MacDonald ENG | Joanna Griez FRA| Ruby Tui NZL | Carlie Powell ENG | Marlie Packer ENG |Paige Farries CAN

3 – Amy Cokayne ENG | Bienne Terita AUS | Rosie Galligan ENG


“Main photo credit”
Embed from Getty Images