England survived a major scare to qualify for the semi-finals of the Women's Rugby World Cup in Barcelona with a hard-fought 13-5 victory over the host nation, Spain.
For much of yesterday's quarter-final, the Spaniards had high hopes of reaching the last four and led 5-0 at half-time. But a rousing dressing- room speech at the interval by the England coach, Geoff Richards, injected a sense of urgency which bore fruit in the form of two tries within 10 minutes of the restart.
Earlier, it had taken nearly half an hour for the first points to be recorded when the Spanish wing Isabel Perez darted through a gap to score an unconverted try. Then, despite heavy English pressure just before the interval, the home defence refused to bend.
England, unused to being outplayed by one of the lesser rugby nations, finally got on to the scoresheet when centre Nicky Jupp crossed the Spanish line in the 46th minute. Four minutes later, right-wing Nicola Crawford found the space she needed to dot down in the corner and give England a 10-3 lead.
Five points was too small a margin as Spain again applied the pressure, but in the 53rd minute Shelly Rae, a normally dependable kicker who had missed two conversion attempts, at last found the target with a penalty which put England two scores ahead.
The results meant that England have now qualified for Tuesday's semi- finals, though the news wasn't as good for Scotland who were beaten 11- 0 by Canada, who reached the last four. Canada had lead 3-0 at the interval.
As the reseeding process is based on the number of tries scored, it is possible that England might have to face the favourites and defending champions, New Zealand, who yesterday thrashed Australia 36-3. The Black Ferns dominated both territory and possession, and it took a fine defensive performance from the Wallaroos to avoid a heavier defeat. The try of the game came in the second half when substitute Helen Vaaga found a hole in a maul before fending off three would-be tacklers to score.
The USA failed to reach their fourth consecutive World Cup final when they lost 21-9 to France. The French held a 16-6 half-time lead following tries from centre Nathalie Amiel and flanker Aline Sagols, and two penalties from full-back Estelle Sartini. Inez Rodriguez landed her third penalty for the Americans early in the second half, but thereafter it was a stalemate until Amiel broke through for her second try, and France's third, in the 79th minute.
The Independent on Sunday (London, England) (May 19, 2002): p12