After positive start, Eagles succumb to relentless Black Ferns

United States falls to sturdy New Zealand attack, 45-12 in first semifinal appearance since 1998

BELFAST, Ireland - The Eagles run towards the 2017 Women's Rugby World Cup Final came to a halt thanks to a classy performance put in by New Zealand that ended in a final score of 45-12 in favor of the Black Ferns.

After yielding an early try, the Eagles struck back through Kirsten Thomas. The winger scored her fourth try of the tournament when Cheta Emba attracted the defense and offloaded to Thomas, who did well to hold her line on the edge. Women's Eagles Sevens teammate Alev Kelter put the United States ahead with a successful conversion, 7-5, but the two-point lead would be the last advantage on the scoreboard the United States would own.

The Eagles countered New Zealand's physicality well, especially in the game's opening half, nullifying several scoring opportunities and holding the Black Ferns' attack to just a penalty goal in the 18th-minute by Kendra Cocksedge to put her side back on top, 8-7. Flanker Kate Zackary, again, led from the front defensively, making tackles and being a pest at the breakdown.

The wheels, however, began to spin in New Zealand's direction when HSBC Women's Sevens World Series' all-time leading try-scoring Portia Woodman scored her first of four tries. The legendary Kiwi left her wing following a lineout to torch through the Eagles defense, making four defenders miss before scoring under the posts and putting her side up 15-7 after the successful conversion.

The United States did well to go into the locker room at halftime trailing by just eight points, but ended the first half how it opened the second period - constantly asked to make tackles on the Black Ferns.

A relentless New Zealand assault didn't produce any additional points against a sturdy American defense until the 51st-minute when Woodman scored her second try. Full back Selica Winiata scooped up a well-placed chip through and got the offload off to Woodman, who dove over the line for a five-pointer.

After another slotted penalty kick by Cocksedge, the Eagles went on the offensive. Following a turnover ball, Stacy Bridges did well to stay alive in a tackle to get a perfectly placed offload to Kelter. The inside center took off for the try line, and ran over 40 meters before dragging a defender with her into the try zone for the Eagles second score in the 58th-minute.

 Michael Lee

The Black Ferns stole the momentum back with multiple-phase play that used their forwards to soften the Eagles defense. With space now out wide, a cut-out pass to Woodman put the winger in position to bag a hat trick and push New Zealand ahead 28-12.

A yellow card issued to the Black Ferns would give the United State the opportunity to play 15 against 14, but the Eagles weren't able to capitalize of the one-player advantage. Instead, New Zealand showed its immense class by adding three more tries, including a fourth by Woodman and a kick-pass that fell into Te Kura Ngata-Aerengamate's arms, enabling the reserve hooker to dot down.

In the end, a litany of possession for the Black Ferns deep inside the Eagles' half was the difference, and New Zealand earned the right to play for the 2017 Women's World Cup Final after its 45-12 victory.

The Eagles' hopes of its first Rugby World Cup title since 1991 might be over, but its 2017 World Cup campaign is not. The United States will recover and prepare for a Saturday, Aug. 26 fixture to decide the tournament's 3rd Place finisher against the runner-up of the other Semifinal between England and France. The 3rd Place contest is scheduled for noon ET on Saturday, and will be available to watch live via NBC Sports Gold's Rugby Pass.