Winger Ashleigh Baxter says the Ireland squad are still on a high from their 17-14 success over New Zealand, but insists they are now fully focused on booking their semi-final place as Pool B winners.
Tuesday’s historic result, along with their opening win versus USA, means the Ireland Women will reach the semi-finals for the first time if they can overcome Kazakhstan on Saturday afternoon.
New Zealand had not been beaten in a Women’s World Cup match since 1991, but years of Irish preparation, a well executed game-plan and an unrivalled intensity from the players on the pitch combined to bring that 20-match run to an end.
Ashleigh Baxter, who plays for Belfast Harlequins and Ulster, told the province’s website: “Everybody is buzzing. We knew we could do it but it was a crazy experience. The whole game is just a blur.
“We were confident going into the game, there were no nerves and everyone was completely focused. We put absolutely everything into it.”
Ireland dominated the opening 20 minutes, only to concede a try against the run of play. But the girls in green showed great heart to bounce back and eventually triumph with Heather O’Brien and Alison Miller scoring a try apiece.
“We knew if we didn’t make any mistakes they couldn’t capitalise and luckily we were able to keep errors to a minimum,” explained Baxter.
“We just focused on keeping them as far away from our try-line as possible to limit their opportunities. I think we were the better team on the day.”
The 22-year-old was keen to highlight the significant role played by the travelling Irish support in Marcoussis, stating: “The fans were absolutely outstanding. Whenever we were standing on the steps waiting to go onto the pitch the crowd were going wild and you could see the New Zealand girls were starting to look uncomfortable.
“The Irish fans completely disrupted New Zealand’s lineouts because they couldn’t hear the calls. And then the French supporters started cheering for us too.”
She continued: “The travelling support has been amazing. There are people who were meant to go home this week and they’ve just decided they are going to stay out here to be part of it.”
Looking ahead to Saturday’s final Pool B game, she said: “Kazakhstan have done really well in their first two games in terms of disrupting the opposition. They’ve had two big scores against them but they’ve performed pretty well and made things difficult.
“We have to put the first two games behind us and focus on Kazakhstan now, we can’t underestimate them. The priority is to win this game and once that’s over we can look further ahead.”
The two tries-to-one victory over New Zealand has not only set the tournament alight but it has captured the imagination of the Irish public. Baxter is hoping it can inspire the next generation of female rugby players.
“There are so many opportunities for girls to get involved in the game now and hopefully the result against New Zealand and the increased media attention will encourage people to join their local club and give it a go.”
If you are based in Ulster and interested in getting involved, please click here for contact information for your local club.