Top-ranked England into Women’s World Cup semis

WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) — Captain Sarah Hunter became the most-capped female player in test history Sunday, winning her 138th cap in England’s 41-5 quarterfinal win over Australia at the Women’s Rugby World Cup.

To celebrate, Hunter scored the opening try of a rain-drenched match in which England’s forward power and precision in marginal conditions was critical. Marlie Packer’s hat-trick also helped England to extend its record test winning streak to 29 games.

Hunter’s try in the eighth minute was a pushover, coming when it forced the Australia scrum back over its tryline from five meters and Hunter pounced at the back of the England scrum.

“I tried not to think about (the record) too much,” Hunter said. “You just want to get out on the pitch and I want to concentrate on what I can do for the team. But it’s a really special day and now I can sit back and enjoy it.”

Top-ranked England has faced some criticism at the World Cup that the “low numbers”, the tight forwards have done the overwhelming majority of its scoring. The England coach and players often have had to defend themselves against claims they are one-dimensional.

England on Sunday was cautious by necessity. Torrential rain had fallen throughout the weekend in Auckland, soaking tens of thousands of runners in the annual Auckland Marathon. The third and fourth quarterfinals were also affected because the playing surface at the Trusts Arena was saturated: players splashed around the field, kicking up sheets of water as they moved.

England’s second try in the 30th minute came from a lineout drive following a penalty. England immediately secured the ball at the back, it’s drive was powerful and Packer scored her first.

Packer was a dynamo around the field and scored her second try just before halftime. Australia was a player short after the sin-binning of its captain Shannon Parry and England spread the ball, stretched the defense and Packer had the last carry to score.

Packer will have something to tell her infant son when she writes home Sunday night. She has written home every day of the tournament to two-year-old Oliver hoping he might re-read her letters in time and find pride in her achievements.

Australia had the last say before halftime, producing one of the tries of the tournament. It defied the weather with a passing move which began among front rowers inside the Australian half and ended with a try to Emily Chancellor.

England led 19-5 at halftime and made its lead unassailable with two tries at the start of the second half. Abbie Ward scored after three minutes and Amy Cockayne after 12, both on the back of strong forward play.

Australia defended well for long periods but England’s attack was relentless and Alex Matthews scored in the 65 mintue to make the score 34-5. The rolling delivered again for England and Packer had her hat-trick just before full time.

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Canada 32, United States 11

Canada was rocked by an early try but rallied with four tries of its own to beat the United States 32-11 Sunday in a match styled “the battle of the border” to reach the final four.

Joanna Kitlinski dived over in the ninth minute for a try which capped an early period of United States dominance.

Canada was shaken but gradually gained a foothold in the match and scored two tries to lead 12-8 by halftime. In wet and slushy conditions, field position was critical and both teams at times accentuated their kicking games.

The United States was strong on attack and the close inter-passing among its forwards in wet and slippery conditions was outstanding. It seemed to have scored again through Hope Rodgers who dived over the Canada line in the 28th minute. But the try was scratched on a TMO intervention and Canada took a 12-8 lead to halftime.

Canada had a strong set piece throughout the tournament and relied on it again Sunday but had trouble turning that set piece advantage into points on the scoreboard.

The United States also defended well, forcing Canada to work hard for points.

After halftime Paige Farries scored quickly to expand Canada’s lead then, after an exchange of penalties, flyhalf Alex Tessier scored a try which pushed Canada 18 points clear at 29-11.

Canada captain Sophie de Goede landed a late penalty to broaden the scoreline.

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