Women’s Rugby World Cup: Old friendship aside for semi-final

Rachel Burford of England is tackled by Nora Stapleton of Ireland during the Women's Six Nations match between England and Ireland at Twickenham Stadium in February
England beat Ireland 17-10 win in their last meeting in the Women's Six Nations at Twickenham in February
Women's World Cup semi-final: Ireland v England
Venue: Stade Jean Bouin, Paris Date: 13 August Kick-off: 17:00 BST
Coverage: Live radio commentary on BBC Radio 5 live sports extra and the BBC Sport website, live text commentary on BBC Sport website

As the final whistle blew on the last pool match of the Women's Rugby World Cup in Marcoussis last Saturday evening, two old friends left each other with a handshake and a smile and agreed to see each other again on Wednesday.

Both men had been keeping a keen eye on hosts France, who beat Australia 17-3 to book a semi-final spot against Canada, while sharing a beer and a few stories.

England women's head coach Gary Street and his Ireland counterpart Philip Doyle will be in direct opposition when their sides meet at the 20,000-capacity Stade Jean Bouin in Paris, the home of cosmopolitan Stade Francais, at 18:00 local time (17:00 BST) on Wednesday.

But Street was happy to sit alongside the Dubliner he describes as a "big funny Irishman" while they both ran the rule over potential final opponents, putting aside their impending rivalry for 80 minutes at least.

Philip Doyle coaching the Ireland team
Ireland women's coach Philip 'Goose' Doyle says England v Ireland matches "are always a great fixture"

Doyle is known in rugby circles as 'Goose', a nickname that has stuck since his alleged similarities to the character played by Anthony Edwards as Tom Cruise's side-kick in the cult 1986 film Top Gun.

He and Street met in the bar of their Edmonton hotel at the 2006 Women's World Cup in Canada, a chance meeting that turned into a four-hour session as the two men discussed their passion for rugby.

"I'm a big fan of the Irish; we've worked together over the last few years and they're a cracking side," Street told BBC Sport.

"'Goose' is a good friend of mine but when it gets to the semi, I think friendships will be put aside. We both want to get to a World Cup final. That's our main goal."

The Ireland coach, who led his side to a Six Nations Grand Slam in 2013 but will step down after the World Cup, is equally enthused by an Anglo-Irish encounter in central Paris.

"I feel great about it; England v Ireland matches are always a great fixture, and there is none bigger than this: it's the semi-final of the World Cup," he said.

"Gary and I know each other incredibly well and the best thing about rugby is that we're all friends at the end of the day.

"I've no doubt the two sides will be at loggerheads. I want to win, Gary wants to win, but we'll be great friends afterwards, we'll have a beer and I think that's the great thing about rugby."

Doyle's Ireland have been the talk of the tournament after beating reigning champions New Zealand in their pool, inflicting the first defeat on the Black Ferns in the tournament since 1991.

ENGLANDYEARIRELAND
Finalists1991DNQ
Winners19947th
Semi-finals199810th
Finalists200214th
Finalists20068th
Finalists20107th

Although this will be their first World Cup semi-final, and Doyle has nothing but respect for opponents who have reached the same stage or better in every previous tournament, he is confident his charges will rise to the challenge.

"England have been up there in the top echelons of women's rugby for many, many years and we're the up-and-comers," he said.

"It's our first World Cup semi-final and I'd like to think we're going to give England a very good run for their money."

The last time the two sides met was at Twickenham in this year's Six Nations as England ran out 17-10 winners, although the outcome was in doubt until late on.

"I don't think we played our greatest game at Twickenham and I think maybe we left something there that day," Doyle said. "Maybe this Wednesday we can repay that a little bit.

"We know we can beat New Zealand, and we know we can push England very close. We beat them in 2013 - maybe it wasn't their strongest side but we pushed them very close in the Six Nations this year.

England team with coach Gary Street
England coach Gary Street says getting to the semi-final has "been a long emotional journey"

"We're both very good sides, but the belief in our camp is paramount and we know we can get to the final. Gary's side is in the way and I'm sorry but we're going to have to push them out of the way."

Street has been here with England before in 2010 - when they beat Australia 15-0 in the last four before an agonising 13-10 final loss to New Zealand - and as assistant coach in 2006, when England edged a tight semi with Canada 10-6 before a 25-17 defeat by the Black Ferns in the final.

"We're the favourites, obviously," he jokes in his broad Brummie accent when asked which side holds the advantage amid an increasingly competitive women's game.

"Before I came out here, I said to everyone who asked if it would be an England v New Zealand final again that any one of six or seven sides could win it. It's absolutely proved to be the case."

With every country playing five matches in a tight 17-day schedule, Street and Doyle have both had to rotate their squads during the pool stages.

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Rugby World Cup - meet the England women

Street surprisingly left out captain Katy Mclean for England's pool decider against Canada but used his bench to strategic effect, bringing on the fly-half and the likes of prop Laura Keates to steady the ship in a tense 13-13 draw that ultimately saw both teams progress.

But the time for tinkering is over, with the cherished prize of a fourth successive final in sight.

"The women's World Cup is a hugely challenging environment," Street added. "You have to have resources and you must be resourceful, but when you get to the business end, the semis and finals, it has to be your best XV.

"It's been a long emotional journey, but I need to get back to the hotel to watch a few videos and crack on."

England: Waterman (Bristol); Merchant (Worcester), Scarratt (Lichfield), Burford (Thurrock), Wilson (Bristol); Mclean (Darlington MP, capt), Mason (Wasps); Clark (Worcester), Fleetwood (Lichfield), Hemming (Bristol); Taylor (Darlington MP), McGilchrist (Wasps); Matthews (Richmond), Alphonsi (Saracens), Hunter (Lichfield).

Replacements: Croker, Essex, Allen (all Richmond), Keates, Large (Worcester), Packer (Wasps), Hunt (Lichfield).

Ireland: Briggs (Munster); Baxter (Ulster), Cantwell (Richmond), Davitt (Ulster), Miller (Connacht); Stapleton (Leinster), Rosser (Leinster); Coghlan (Leinster, capt), Bourke (Munster), Egan (Leinster); Spence (Leinster), Reilly (Leinster); Fitzpatrick (Leinster), Molloy (Connacht), O'Brien (Munster).

Replacements: Lynch, Murphy (both Leinster), Hayes, Fleming, Guest (Munster), Muldoon (Bristol), Casey (Saracens).

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