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Women's Rugby World Cup: Ireland v England preview
England welcome back captain Katy McLean in one of six team changes for the Women's Rugby World Cup semi-final with Ireland.
The 28-year-old, who missed her side's last two pool matches, returns at fly-half in place of Ceri Large, who is amongst the replacements.
Mclean will link up with scrum-half La Toya Mason who is given the nod at number nine with the other change in the backline seeing Kay Wilson starting on the wing.
In the pack, prop Sophie Hemming is selected whilst Lichfield’s Victoria Fleetwood starts at hooker and Joanna McGilchrist returns into the second-row to team up with Tamara Taylor.
“This is a hugely experienced side and it is a settled side too with the core of this team playing three out of the four games in this World Cup," said England head coach Gary Street.
“Ceri Large has done a great job at fly-half for this tournament but it is great to welcome back Katy who is feeling fresh and ready to go.
"Alex Matthews has also been hugely impressive. She brings great power and explosiveness and although she is a young player she has grasped every opportunity we have given her over the World Cup.
"La Toya, meanwhile, is a very experienced scrum-half and featured in the last World Cup Final.”
Unsurprisingly, Ireland have reverted to the same team that pulled off the shock win over holders New Zealand in the pool stage.
Coach Philip Doyle had made 10 changes for the final pool game against Kazakhstan, which they won 40-5.
Notably, number eight Heather O'Brien, who had been suffering with a finger injury, resumes in the back row on Wednesday and full-back Niamh Briggs, who is Ireland's top points scorer in France with 25, is back in the number 15 jersey.
"We have had a fantastic campaign so far and that has come from our hard work and dedication. We don't intend for it to end here," Doyle said.
England have not been at their best in the tournament so far, particularly in the 13-13 draw with Canada in their final group game, which saw them reach the last four.
The elimination of New Zealand, who have won the last four tournaments, means England have a great chance of repeating their only Cup success to date, in 1994.
However, standing in their way is Ireland, who beat New Zealand 17-14 in Pool B to ensure they ended the phase with a 100% win record and took a semi-final spot at the Black Ferns' expense.
Ireland’s form will count for them, but the weight of history is with England.
Ireland have never before played in a World Cup semi-final and the last time the two met, in last year’s Six Nations, England emerged 17-10 victors.
Sky Sports rugby pundit Stuart Barnes is backing England to win the Wednesday’s match at the Stade de France, despite Ireland’s impressive display against the holders.
No bigger test
“There is no bigger boost in men’s or women’s rugby than beating the New Zealand team,” he told Sky Sports News.
“The question for Ireland is: have they peaked? Did they put so much in to beating New Zealand that when they play against another of the big teams they might find a bit hard.
“For that reason I think England will win that game.
“From an English fans’ point of view, I don’t think they are anywhere near top gear yet.
“You could say it is a worry that they drew with Canada, but you can also say there is a lot more to come.”
A large crowd is expected at the Stade de France for Wednesday’s game with a television audience predicted to be greater than the record 1.5m who tuned in to watch the pool game between hosts France and South Africa last week.
In Wednesday’s other semi-final, France take on Canada, with the final to be played on Sunday.
Ireland team to face England:
15 N Briggs; 14 A Baxter, 13 L Cantwell, 12 G Davitt, 11 A Miller; 10 N Stapleton, 9 T Rosser; 1 F Coghlan, 2 G Bourke, 3 A Egan, 4 S Spence, 5 M Louise Reilly, 6 P Fitzpatrick, 7 C Molloy, 8 H O'Brien.
Replacements: 16 S Lynch, 17 F Hayes, 18 S Fleming, 19 L Guest, 20 L Muldoon, 21 J Murphy, 22 H Casey.
England team to face Ireland:
15 D Waterman, 14 K Merchant, 13 E Scarratt, 12 R Burford, 11 K Wilson, 10 K Mclean, 9 LT Mason, 1 R Clark, 2 V Fleetwood, 3 S Hemming, 4 T Taylor, 5 J McGilchrist, 6 A Matthews, 7 M Alphonsi, 8 S Hunter.
Replacements: 16 E Croker, 17 L Keates, 18 R Essex, 19 M Packer, 20 N Hunt, 21 C Large, 22 C Allan.
You can watch Ireland take on England in the Women's Rugby World Cup semi-final on Sky Sports 4 HD from 4:45pm on Wednesday. And then catch the second semi-final between hosts France and Canada too, with coverage from 7.30pm.
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