ENGLAND secured a place in the Women’s Rugby World Cup semi-finals despite a draw against Canada in their decisive group game at Marcoussis today.
This result meant England topped Pool A on points difference while Canada now face a nervous wait for the outcome of the game between Australia and France later this evening.
But defending champions New Zealand, who are playing USA today, are out regardless of the result in their final group stage match after losing to Ireland earlier this week.
Ireland, with a 40-5 victory over Kazakhstan, were the first team to book their spot in the semi-finals and are so far unbeaten in this tournament.
Drybrook fly-half Ceri Large, University of Gloucestershire students Danielle Waterman and Heather Fisher and Gloucester-born Natasha Hunt started for England, while former Hartpury College student Alex Matthews featured from the bench.
England opened the scoring with an Emily Scarratt penalty in the ninth minute but it was Canada, who had enjoyed the lion’s share of possession and territory, who drew first blood.
Canada’s rumbling maul crashed over in the 16th minute with Karen Paquin grounding the ball, but Magali Harvey’s conversion sailed wide.
Playmaker Large continued to open the game up for England on the attack but the backs failed to capitalise as sloppy handling and simple handling errors cost them dear.
A beautifully weighted kick found Waterman but the former Hartpury College lecturer could not get her hands on it to ground the ball over the whitewash.
An almost identical kick from Large then bounced perfectly for Katherine Merchant, but a superb covering tackle forced the wing to knock on in the 28th minute.
Waterman, who was looking so dangerous on the ball, burst to the line just before half-time but was bullied to touch by two defenders.
But England won a penalty, and Scarratt, who secured a 100 per cent record against Spain, split the posts to boot England into a narrow 6-5 lead at the break.
England were falling off tackles at the start of the second half and Canada were almost over early in the second half as Harvey’s pace continued to cause chaos.
But they made sure of it with a second chance as Kayla Mack crashed over from a driving maul after a quick tap penalty.
Harvey’s conversion drifted wide but Canada had a 10-6 lead.
Head coach Gary Street rang the changes in the 51st minute as former Hartpury College student Alex Matthews replaced University of Gloucestershire student Heather Fisher in the back row.
England desperately needed to find a score and it came from captain Sarah Hunter.
A driving scrum bulldozed over, with Hunter controlling the movement superbly before touching down.
Scarratt kicked the conversion cleanly to give England a 13-10 lead.
Large was replaced by Katy McLean at fly-half in the 61st minute as both sides continued to press for the crucial victory in this decisive pool match.
Harvey, having missed three from three kicks, got it right when she had to. She split the posts with a penalty in the 73rd minute to level the scores 13-13 and a huge seven minutes awaited the Red Roses.
Despite frantic chances, neither side could break the deadlock.
The high-tempo match ended in a draw, which not only put England through to the semi-finals, it also meant four-time champions New Zealand would not have a chance to defend their title.
ENGLAND: D Waterman, K Merchant, E Scarrett, R Burford, C Allan, C Large, N Hunt, R Clark, E Croker, S Hemming, R Essex, T Taylor, H Fisher, M Alphonsi, S Hunter (c)
REPLACEMENTS: V Fleetwood, L Keates, J McGilchrist, A Matthews, L T Mason, K McLean, K Wilson