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Crowds continue to flock to #WRWC2014

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irb.com     13 Aug 2014     Getty Images

Of the four semi-finalists only England know what it is like to win a semi-final – having lost the last three World Cup title deciders to New Zealand – while their opponents Ireland are in unchartered territory. France and Canada have both been here before, but never victorious.

The quality of play on the field and the high level of interest from media and fans alike makes it easy to forget that women’s rugby is still largely an amateur spot, particularly given the dedication and performance from the players.

“Our strength and conditioning coaches have us on strict regimes of compression leggings and ice baths but as a squad we’re making sure that we rest,” explained Ireland flanker Claire Molloy.

“We played early on Saturday. We had the best recovery session that we could for the semi-finals because we had our game early and got our recovery done on the first day.

“I think that everyone is mentally very fresh because England for us is the best team that we could meet in the semis. When you put that shirt in front of us we’re up for it.”

Going one step further

Another flanker not afraid to put her body on the line in quest of victory for her country is Maggie Alphonsi, or “Maggie the Machine” as she is known to many in the women’s game.

“I don’t know another way to play to be honest,” she admitted after England’s 13-13 draw with Canada on Saturday secured top spot in Pool A. “I watch a lot of American Football and if you watch that, they pretty much don’t care about their bodies, they just go for it.

“My priority is playing for my country, and I want my country to win. We’ll all put our bodies on the line because we want to get to that final and when you do it’s a different kind of game.”

Her teammate Danielle Waterman is competing her third Women’s Rugby World Cup and believes that England have not reached their peak in France despite reaching the semi-finals.

“It never loses its shine,” insisted the full back. “Ireland are in really good form, they’ve been building as a squad over the last two to three years, but we’re fortunate enough to have been playing Ireland quite a lot and as much as they’ve improved, so have we.

“Although we didn’t quite get the technical detail of the game right against Canada we know that we can go one step further in our performance and that’s definitely going to challenge all facets of the Irish game.”

France surprised by level of interest

The other semi-final will be just as hotly contested and could yet again break the record TV audience with two million people in France alone having watched Les Bleues beat Australia 17-3 on Saturday to top Pool C and qualify for the semi-finals as top seeds.

While the French team are used to attracting large crowds for their home matches, number 8 Safi N’Diaye admits she has been surprised by the attention that is surrounding #WRWC2014. She is though relishing the challenge of her first World Cup tournament.

“We were warned ‘you know girls it’s August, there aren’t many big sporting events happening this time of year’. We anticipated some level of interest although certainly not to this extent,” N’Diaye explained.

“My job is made easier by having such a great pack in front of me who gain territory so quickly, it helps feeding clean balls to the backs. We’ve got a great back row with our flankers who are fast runners and are very mobile so we complement each other really well.”

The TV audience has certainly surprised N’Diaye. “It was a real surprise; it was kind of funny actually. Suddenly people were almost fighting to interview us, it was a little bit strange because we are regular women, just like everybody else and we are amateurs.”

Amateur or not, N’Diaye is very driven to make sure that her team are the best on the day.

“My goal is to make progress and break the opponents’ defence to allow my backline to gain even more territory. If we think about the final too much now and underestimate the game against Canada, who have a very strong team, we will destabilise ourselves and it’ll be a huge mistake.”

Forwards "massive" for Canada

Canada got through to the semi-finals as the best runner up after a nail-biting battle with England and captain Kelly Russell insists her team are prepared for what awaits them at the Stade Jean Bouin.

“It’s a challenge against France, we’re doing the work now.” Russell said. “We understand that France probably have a heavier pack than us so we’re really focused on our technique.

“From number one to 15, the girls can take care of every element of the game. Our forwards have been massive for us, especially getting the go-forward and being able to open the outside source.”

While the semi-finals may take centre stage on Wednesday there are four other matches taking place involving the teams battling for the fifth to 12th positions in the showpiece event of the women's game.

Four-time champions New Zealand will be disappointed to have missed out on the semi-finals for the first time in WRWC history and will be eager to beat Wales in the opening match at the Stade Jean Bouin to remain on course for fifth place.

The other three matches will take place at the FFR Headquarters in Marcoussis with Australia tackling the USA in the other fifth to eighth place semi-final. The day will begin though with the two matches involving the teams ranked nine to 12 after the pool stages with South Africa facing Samoa and then Spain taking on Kazakhstan.