England survive Spanish fright to reach last four

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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.

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 40 minutes of yesterday's quarter-final the Span-iards had high hopes of reaching the last four, and led 5-0 at half-time. But a rousing dressing-room speech by the England coach, Geoff Richards, at the interval stiffened his players' resolve and injected the required sense of urgency.

Within 10 minutes of the restart, England had scored the two tries which set up their eventual success while the home side were left to reflect on a battling performance that had stretched their opponents throughout.

It took nearly half an hour for the first points to be recorded when the Spanish wing Isabel Pérez 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 the 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.

So England have now qualified for Tuesday's semi-finals, but they were forced to await the outcome of yesterday's other quarter-finals – between the USA and France, and Canada and Scotland – before discovering the identity of their next opponents.

As the reseeding process is based on the number of tries scored, it is possible that England might next 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.

New Zealand's coach, Darryl Sua Sua, said: "We played the game we wanted to play. We had them pinned in their own half and the main thing was that we didn't have to show everything."

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