NI netballers lose to England in World Cup last eight
The Northern Ireland netball team lost 87-16 to England in the quarter-finals of the World Cup on Friday morning.
The third seeds led 41-7 at half-time and cruised into the semi-finals with an imposing performance in Singpaore.
The NI team, ranked 12th in the world, were unable to record a first-ever victory over the English.
Northern Ireland had defeated Sri Lanka and the fancied Samoans on their way to the last eight, also losing to defending champions Australia.
Things looked ominous for the underdogs from the early stages as England stormed into an 11-2 lead.
The score was doubled by the end of the first quarter and it was 41-7 at half-time, with Northern Ireland not helping their cause by failing to take some of the precious chances they managed to create with three successive misses at one stage.
Northern Ireland actually registered the first goal of the second half and got their tally into double figures but were outscored by 22-6 and it was 63-13 entering the final quarter.
The teams shared the first four goals of the last period but England cut loose in its middle minutes and had stretched their margin to 71 goals by the final whistle.
The NI team failed to turn their chances into goals throughout the game, ending with a poor return of under 50 per cent.
Their star performer was Caroline O'Hanlon, who worked tirelessly throughout and presented options in attack right to the final whistle.
Rice must now pick her disappointed players up for Saturday's encounter with sixth seeds South Africa which has the prize of a place in the following day's fifth-place play-off.
The format of the competition means that, although Northern Ireland can no longer lift the World Cup, they will have two more matches in the tournament.
So their Far East mission is far from finished and Rice remains focused on the goal of bettering the record eighth place already guaranteed.
"Everyone's hurting at the moment, but we were never going to win the World Cup and thankfully the format means we still have the chance to finish on a high note," said Rice.
"England were fantastic today and obviously there's a great gulf in class between the sides.
"But we're a very proud team and are really hurting from the feeling that we underperformed," she reflected minutes after the final whistle.
"There's enormous pressure playing against England but we wouldn't be happy with our number of errors and they were punished ruthlessly throughout.
"I think we could also have had a bit more protection from the umpires - England are a huge team packed with semi-professional players and our girls took a lot of physical punishment out there."
Northern Ireland squad: Noleen Lennon (capt), Micaela Brunton, Fionnuala Toner, Frances Campbell (all Belfast Ladies), Lisa McCaffrey (vice-captain), Gemma Gibney, Hannah Irvine, Oonagh McCullough (all Graduates), Caroline O'Hanlon, Kyla Bowman, Deborah McCarthy, Laura Mason (all Larkfield).