England vs Australia: Excitement and pressure ahead of clash between sporting rivals in semi-final

Two old foes are set to face each other in a sporting rivalry which spans more than just football, ITV News' Sports Editor Steve Scott reports

“What did you make of the Bairstow run-out?”

It wasn’t the usual question Lionesses’ star midfielder Keira Walsh might expect to field ahead of a World Cup semi-final; but then this is a match with a delicious edge to it.

For the record, Walsh played the straightest of bats and said she hadn’t seen the controversial incident that stirred up real animosity in cricket’s recent Ashes series, and as a result we didn’t get the quote we were searching for to add to the “fierce rivalry” narrative.

In fact, when asked about that rivalry, and the Australian newspaper headlines that were stoking it up, Walsh diffused the conversation.

"There is a rivalry with any team, so it doesn’t make much of a difference if the media are trying to talk about beating England,” she said.

"Most teams probably say that now, off the back of the Euros."

The Australian team is toeing the same line, with veteran goalkeeper Lydia Williams beautifully understated about the occasion itself and the Lionesses, describing them as “just another opponent.”

Even Sarina Wiegman was slightly bemused earlier this week and promised to get briefed about this historical antagonism: “I think the Australians and English can get along really well, we’ve had such a warm welcome here and we are really enjoying our time here in Australia.”

Speaking after England's win against Colombia, Wiegman said the Lionesses are looking forward to the clash against Australia

On the face of it, it’s all rather civilised between the teams but don’t let that fool you.

The venue for Wednesday’s match is Stadium Australia; the same place where Jonny Wilkinson famously kicked England to World Cup success against the old foe in 2003.

His ghost will be accompanied by the spirit of Cathy Freeman who won gold on the track there for Australia in the Sydney Olympics – still one of the country’s most iconic sporting moments.

Of course on Wednesday evening the stands will be full of green and gold.

'Yeah, play by the rules': Australia's cricket captain gives his advice to England goalkeeper Mary Earps in response to a question referring to Jonny Bairstow's controversial dismissal

And each and every one of those wearing the Matilda’s uniform will be willing the Lionesses to lose - a very different experience to England’s last major semi-final at the Euros.

There is though every chance the country-wide wave of support for Australia will actually weigh heavily on them.

They are under unimaginable pressure to succeed here, an expectation that could either inspire or intimidate.

If the Lionesses get off to a commanding start, quickly reducing the volume levels within the stadium, then doubts might just eat away at the Matildas.

Those wearing the Matilda’s uniform will be willing the Lionesses to lose. Credit: AP

How many times have you seen some of the game’s most talented players shrink, take the easy option and adopt a no-risk strategy rather than be singled out by the crowd?

But you can set the long-standing rivalry aside, as this match stands alone as a mouth-watering prospect and really doesn’t need turbo-charging.

Having said that we’ll keep looking for conflict right up until kick-off, as we did when we caught up with Australia’s cricket captain Pat Cummins in Sydney, who told us beating England is the sweetest feeling in sport.

“There’s nothing more satisfying as an Aussie than getting one up on our English mates.”

Australia’s Cricket Captain Pat Cummins encouraged the Lionesses to enjoy the match and said 'banter is at all-time high levels' between England and Australia

And as someone who knows how to beat England, what advice would he give the Australian team?

“Go out and enjoy it,” he says.

“It’s going to be a packed house, there are millions watching, go out and enjoy it, that’s why you play sport as a kid. The Matildas should go out and kill it!”

A view echoed by Wallabies scrum-half Nic White.

"Look, it’s a bit tasty this one," he told us.

"Not only is it a big game in a World Cup here at home, but against the big brother, so hopefully we go alright."

Want a quick, expert briefing on the biggest stories of the day? Here's What You Need To Know...