Today’s announcement of the fixtures for the 2014 Women’s Rugby World Cup has whetted appetites for Ireland’s bid to improve on their seventh place finish at the tournament in England four years ago.
Ireland will tackle the USA and Kazakhstan – two teams they encountered at the 2010 World Cup – along with defending champions New Zealand in Pool B of the Paris tournament this August (click here for fixtures details).
Ireland ended their 2010 World Cup campaign with a 32-8 play-off win over Scotland, with head coach Philip Doyle saying it was ‘a huge achievement’ to finish seventh overall given the high standard of the competition.
Doyle and prop Fiona Coghlan remain in situ as coach and captain, but the Irish Women’s rugby landscape has utterly changed in four short years with the annexing of the Grand Slam in 2013 and qualification for the Sevens World Series.
The girls in green have enjoyed a first ever Six Nations win over England and recorded their second success over France, two teams that reached the semi-finals of the last World Cup.
Qualifying for the last-four in Paris will be the chief aim of Doyle’s talented charges, and Coghlan is especially looking forward to locking horns with New Zealand for the first time.
“The Black Ferns are the only team ranked above us in the world that we haven’t played, so it’s a very exciting prospect to test ourselves against the World champions,” she admitted.
Coghlan and company will bottle the hurt of losing their Six Nations crown to France – they were 19-15 losers in the final round in Pau – as thoughts soon turn to the World Cup.
A number of Irish squad members played against each other over the weekend in the Women’s All-Ireland League semi-finals.
Unbeaten table toppers Old Belvedere got the better of UL Bohemians on a 13-6 scoreline, while second-placed Highfield overcame Blackrock 17-8 in the other semi-final tie.
Grand Slam-winning out-half Nora Stapleton kicked eight points and strong-running centre Jenny Murphy scored the game’s only try as ‘Belvo qualified for the Division 1 decider.
Stapleton was ever-present in the number 10 jersey during Ireland’s recent Six Nations campaign, having played her part in Leinster’s Interprovincial title win earlier in the season.
The Donegal woman is one of the surviving members of Ireland’s 2010 World Cup squad and is excited about playing at the showpiece event this summer.
“We came back from France a little bit disappointed, but happy that we have the World Cup now to start focusing on and we can start building for that,” she said on a recent edition of RTÉ 2fm’s ‘Game On’.
“As players, we were straight back into our club season, straight back into big games in the cup and league. After that, we’ll probably take a break for a week or two and then start training and getting fit for the World Cup.”
Stapleton, who works as a Women’s and Girls’ Rugby Development Executive with the IRFU, took confidence from Ireland’s performances away from home against England and France despite the final outcomes.
“We lost to both England and France but the margins were quite small and we put up quite a good fight. They had their purple patches but we certainly had ours.
“I think from playing those games we’ve realised now that we can compete against the best teams in the world and we’re up there with them.
“That’s given us huge confidence…that and being able to absorb pressure in front of large crowds, playing in the Aviva in front of that crowd, being able to blank it out and perform, so we can only draw positives from that.”
More people than ever before attended the Ireland Women’s team’s games this season, including their historic first outing at the Aviva Stadium where they defeated Italy 39-0 shortly after the men’s side had played there.
Thousands tuned in for RTÉ’s live TV coverage of the Italy and France matches, with 2fm also providing live radio commentary throughout the Women’s Championship and IrishRugby.ie hosting live streams and highlights of the earlier rounds.
Paris has already given Irish rugby some unforgettable moments this year, and the Women’s squad will be hoping to create some of their own come August.
Fans travelled in their numbers to support the girls in green during the recent Six Nations, and it is hoped that many will make the trip to France to cheer on Doyle’s squad.
Commenting on the players’ tight bond with the supporters, Stapleton added: “You go back four years, even last year or the year before when we were playing in Ashbourne, we really made it our business to thank the crowd for coming to our games.
“It’s not easy travelling on a Friday night to Ashbourne. Some of the people coming to our (Six Nations) games don’t get home til well after midnight and that’s certainly not easy for them.
“As a squad we definitely appreciate that and want to acknowledge that, because if it wasn’t for them our game probably wouldn’t have been at the Aviva Stadium and if it wasn’t for them we may not have been on RTÉ or our matches shown live. So. the general public are really getting behind us.”
Tickets for the knockout stages of the Women’s Rugby World Cup range from just €;5 to €;20 for the semi-finals and from €;5 to €;25 for the final day at Stade Jean Bouin. Click here to buy tickets.
Tickets for the pool stages will be released at a later date.
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