This article is part of the USA Women's Eagles Final in '14 blog. All entries are written exclusively by members of the women's national team.
The Irish win against New Zealand felt like a change in an era of the women’s international game. Not only did Ireland win, but they did so not playing their best. Their line out against us was sensational and they won 91% of their ball - against New Zealand it malfunctioned and put them into the hole many times in the game. However their defense was very impressive, and they have the most influential player I have seen - Niamh Briggs. The Irish fullback is coming back from a broken hand, but her kicking out of the hand was a difference maker in both of Ireland’s wins so far. Against us, Briggs constantly turned us in the second half as Ireland dominated territory. The same was true against New Zealand, with the highlight being one kick that went from 22 to 22!
We knew coming to the World Cup we were in the “Pool of Death” with Ireland and New Zealand in the pool. Ireland won the Grandslam in 2013 6 Nations and they demonstrated it was not a fluke with close losses to England and France this year. Our tight game against them was what we expected - a toss up game - and while we were disappointed with the outcome the performance was one of the best we have had in the cycle. The loss looks a lot better after they beat New Zealand, but the bonus point we got is now critical We still have a pathway to the semifinals if we can beat New Zealand, however we need some of the other results to go our way. New Zealand is in a similar position. The games on Saturday have seven teams that can all qualify and no teams through yet to the semifinals (although Ireland will beat Kazakhstan).
The major disappointment with the World Cup (other than only having women’s referees here) is that the competition only goes to semifinals. This means that we can beat New Zealand, gain a bonus point, finish with 11 points and not qualify for the semis! In past World Cups the semifinals have not been competitive, with New Zealand and England dominating. It is time for the World Cup to move to quarterfinals so all the deserving teams can have the chance. There are not more than 12 competitive teams, so it would mean that the top eight teams would get an extra game and the bottom four would only get two, but that seems workable.
The team is excited for the challenge tomorrow. Three years of work will go out on the field tomorrow against the world champions. While both teams are playing for a semifinal spot, even the winner of the game may miss out.