The 2017 Women’s Rugby World Cup roadshow hits Belfast tomorrow afternoon for the semi final stages of the competition. There will be six games in total as the teams play for positional rankings as well as for the World Cup.

The matches will be played at Ravenhill and Queen’s Arena, the first match kicking of at Queen’s at 12:00 with the final match taking place at Ravenhill at 19:45.

Our review of each match is as follows:

Match 19: Italy v Japan (9th Place Semi Final). Queen’s Arena 12:00

Italy have been one of the disappointments of the World Cup dropping two places below where we reckoned they should be i.e. we thought they should finish the group stages in 8th place, whereas the ended up 10th. They will be smarting after their loss to Spain, a result that carries additional consequences as Italy replaced Spain in the Women’s Six Nations in 2007. It’s a result that puts additional pressure on the Italian side for the remainder of the tournament.

Japan on the other hand have been an absolute delight. They have had excellent preparation, are well coached and play with unbounded enthusiasm. The only down side, and unfortunately it’s a major downside in rugby, is their physical presence on the pitch. They are the smallest and lightest side in the competition and unfortunately these attributes have counted against them so, despite pushing Ireland and Australia hard in the pool stages, they have yet to record a win.

Unfortunately for Japan, they face, in Italy, one of the most physical teams in the bottom quarter of the competition so it looks like they will have to wait one more game before getting that victory.

Match 20: Ireland v Australia (5th Place Semi Final). Ravenhill 14:00

Expectations have been such that Ireland have had a disappointing tournament despite wins against Australia and Japan in the pool stages. The natures of those wins, combined by a comprehensive defeat to France, have led to this disappointment with the team playing well below the standard set at the previous World Cup.

Unfortunately the Ireland management team has not been able to develop a settled and well coached side as was done previously, by Philip Doyle, Greg McWilliams and Peter Bracken, with one tenth of the resources.

It’s a shame that this group of players have had to suffer due to failings of those in charge and a loss against Australia would turn a disappointing tournament into a disaster for the host team.

Australia on the other hand have generally held their own. They will have been disappointed to lose to Ireland in their opening game of the tournament and will be keen for revenge, but, the loss of Shannon Parry, due to injury, does weaken the side.

The Wallaroos will likely be better coached and have a few new tricks up their sleeves for this rematch but the Australians do lack an experienced core due to lack of game time. It’s also hard to believe that Ireland could be so poorly prepared once again and the hosts should have enough to see off the Australians to claim a 5th place showdown against the Canadians.

Match 21: Spain v Hong Kong (9th Place Semi Final). Queen’s Arena 14:30

Spain have performed slightly better than we anticipated largely due to their win against Italy. They are a clever side and can generally pull out a big performance when required. It would be no surprise if they win this bottom section of the competition.

They will certainly have too much for a willing but woefully inexperienced Hong Kong and I suspect both these teams will be focusing on the next round then Spain should face a rematch with Italy and Hong Kong face, familiar foes, Japan.

Match 22: Canada v Wales (5th Place Semi Final). Queens Arena 17:00

The pool match between these pair was the one that knocked Canada’s campaign off tack. Not only did Wales prevent Canada from picking up an expected bonus point but also their physical challenge in that gamed drained the, previously impressive, Canadian side ahead of their pool decider against New Zealand.

Canada will be eager to restore some pride and their target will be to pick up 5th place. In this case any win will do and, despite gutsy performances from the Welsh, the Canadians have too much class to slip up again.

Match 23: New Zealand v USA (Semi Final). Ravenhill 17:00

Well, well, well! Have the sleeping giants of Women’s Rugby, the USA, finally awoke? I guess we’ll find out tomorrow. We always expected the USA to improve as the tournament progressed but they have exceeded our expectations by 2 places in getting into the semi finals of the competition.

The Americans are still a bit rough around the edges but they have a strong core of skilled athletes, their only downside being their XV’s experience, both in the team and in the coaching ticket.

New Zealand have also progressed nicely. They looked a touch rusty against Wales, in their opener, but were sensational against Hong Kong and Canada. Off the field they have been very relaxed and they look to be tournament favourites, a weight that sits comfortably on their shoulders.

The Black Ferns should win this one with something to spare and I suspect the USA have already met their tournament target by getting into the semi finals. However with the USA’s maverick style I expect it will be an entertaining match.

Match 24: England v France (Semi Final). Ravenhill 19:45.

Everything points to this being the match of the tournament. On the face of it it’s two familiar foes, well they have met each other often enough, but I suspect that England have never faced a French side as fit and conditioned as this one.

England have strolled through the tournament. They have done everything right, rotated key players and maintained genuine competition for places in their squad. They have however shipped a few tries along the way, in particular four against the USA.

France have been a delight and have played some of the best rugby of the tournament. They are so strong, fit, powerful and skilled that I would not be surprised if they deliberately played two different halfs against Ireland, one in attack and one in defence, just to get the experience.

I’ve admired both these sides throughout the tournament, England for their calm control and the French for their flair and I suspect that the eventual winner of the tournament will come from this match. I really don’t know what way this one will go but I would love to see France progress to the final.

#SUFTUM