The Ireland Women's Sevens squad are in action this weekend in the fourth leg of the HSBC World Rugby Women's Sevens Series in Kitakyushu, Japan.
The tournament takes place in the impressive Mikuni World Stadium, which has only recently been finished and will be one of the stadiums used at the Rugby World Cup in Japan in 2019.
Ireland, who lie in ninth place in the overall World Series standings, have been drawn into Pool B, alongside Brazil, Fiji and Australia. The teams are no strangers to each other this season, with all four being drawn in the same pool at the Sydney 7s back in January, while this will be the fifth tournament in a row that Ireland meet Fiji.
Ireland will face the Fijians in their first game tomorrow (11.14am local time/3.14am Irish time). The girls in green recorded their first ever win over the Islanders in Sydney, but suffered a 31-5 defeat to them in Las Vegas last month, and the sides drew in Dubai back in December.
The flying Fijians have done well this season and are currently sitting fourth overall. Ireland have shown that they are capable of victory, but the key will be to deny Fiji possession, and when they do have the ball, Lucy Mulhall and her team-mates will need to be disciplined and organised in defence as Fiji can score from literally anywhere on the pitch.
Ireland captain Mulhall told Irish Rugby TV: "We're really excited for the weekend. We've a lot to build on from the last couple of tournaments, but we've got high expectations now and we want to move on from just top eight at this stage.
"It's between day one and day two, we just want to compete in every single game and put it up to the top teams in the world. We've three very strong teams in our pool, we know them well, they're three very physical and fit teams.
"So we know exactly what to expect. I think we're really well prepared for them and if we execute our own game-plan, I think we'll put it up to all three teams in the pool stages."
Game two sees Ireland up against Olympic gold medallists and current World Series holders Australia.
Both sides are very well acquainted, having trained against one another in a several camps over the past number of years, as well as meeting in competitive action a number of times.
The Australians are yet to win a World Series tournament so far this season. They have been experimenting with some positional and personnel changes, no doubt with one eye on next year's Women's Rugby World Cup Sevens in San Francisco. Despite this, they still sit in third place overall.
Australia are dangerous across the pitch, and any mistakes will be punished, so for Ireland to be in with a chance in this game, it will be important that they are patient and controlled in defence and capitalise on any opportunities they get in attack.
In the final round of matches on day 1, Ireland take on Brazil. Challenge Trophy winners in Sydney, the South Americans were victorious over England and Spain in Sydney, and have run the likes of the USA and Canada close in previous tournaments so Ireland cannot afford to underestimate them.
The Irish side will be looking to speedster Amee-Leigh Murphy Crowe to continue crossing the try-line as she has done so to such great effect so far this season - she is currently the eighth top try scorer on the circuit with 12 tries to her name.
Mulhall is a fantastic distributor and is well capable of putting players through a gap, while scrum half Stacey Flood will be charged with providing quality ball from the scrum and lineout. Up front, Megan Williams has been one of Ireland's key players over the three tournaments to date, regularly featuring on the World Rugby top performers charts and her work-rate has been a real positive for Ireland this season.
Audrey O'Flynn, who was struggling with an injury earlier in the year, is fit and raring to go and her ball-carrying skills will be important in providing Ireland with go-forward ball. Her team-mate and house-mate Ashleigh Baxter is a real groundhog and her defensive and organisational skills will be vital to Ireland's success.
Former GAA players Hannah Tyrrell, Louise Galvin and Kim Flood will all be looking to use their aerial abilities to claim possession from restarts, as well as using their footballing skills to beat defenders. Sene Naoupu, who incidentally has spent time in Japan and has a good grasp of the language, can strike from anywhere on the field and her hard lines and unpredictability will keep defenders on their toes.
Emma Murphy, while one of the less experienced members of the squad, showed in Sydney that she is a shrewd lineout operator and can make the hard yards, while the experienced Claire Keohane has lots of pace and a good passing and kicking game so can vary things up for Ireland.
Ahead of the competition, head coach Anthony Eddy, the IRFU Director of Women's and Sevens Rugby, said: "We've managed to make the quarter-finals in the last two tournaments, so that will be a target for us again this weekend. Hopefully we can have a productive day 2 and achieve some really good results.
"The players have worked extremely hard and have shown good improvement all year, so I'm sure they are looking forward to building on their performances to date."
IRELAND WOMEN'S SEVENS Squad (HSBC World Rugby Women's Sevens Series - Kitakyushu Sevens, Mikuni World Stadium, Kitakyushu, Japan, Saturday, April 22-Sunday, April 23):
Ashleigh Baxter (Cooke/Ulster)
Claire Keohane (UL Bohemians/Munster)
Stacey Flood (Railway Union/Leinster)
Lucy Mulhall (Rathdrum/Leinster) (capt)
Amee-Leigh Murphy Crowe (Railway Union/Munster)
Sene Naoupu (Aylesford Bulls)
Audrey O'Flynn (Ireland Sevens Programme)
Hannah Tyrrell (Old Belvedere/Leinster)
Megan Williams (Ireland Sevens Programme)
Kim Flood (Railway Union/Leinster)
Louise Galvin (UL Bohemians/Munster)
Emma Murphy (Railway Union/Leinster)
IRELAND WOMEN'S SEVENS Fixtures -
Kitakyushu 7s - Pool B:
Saturday, April 22
Ireland v Fiji, Mikuni World Stadium, 11.14am local time/3.14am Irish time Australia v Ireland, Mikuni World Stadium, 2.20pm local time/6.20am Irish time Ireland v Brazil, Mikuni World Stadium, 4.42pm local time/8.42am Irish time
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