It is a Bank Holiday weekend in Ireland as the final touches are applied to the pool match venues in UCD – the Bowl and Billings Park – and the remaining teams arrive in Dublin for the much-anticipated start of Women’s Rugby World Cup 2017.
IT WILL BE ‘A TOURNAMENT TO REMEMBER’ SAYS AZZURRI BOSS O’SHEA: Italy Men’s head coach Conor O’Shea says his native Ireland will host ‘a tournament to remember’ ahead of the big kick-off at UCD next Wednesday afternoon.
O’Shea played 35 times at full-back for Ireland, making his Rugby World Cup bow in South Africa in 1995 and also featuring in the 1999 tournament where he touched down twice against Romania during a pool game at the old Lansdowne Road.
Acknowledging that a smoothly-run WRWC 2017 in Dublin and Belfast should boost Ireland’s hopes of hosting the male equivalent in 2023, O’Shea said: “I just told Sara (Barattin), the Italy captain, that they’re so excited in Ireland about hosting this tournament. The ticket sales, just for the Irish games, they’re all sold out in the pool stage.
“I think they want it to be a great showcase in terms of hosting the tournament because they obviously have their eye on hosting the World Cup in 2023. I’m sure everyone will be given a massive, massive welcome in Ireland, by everybody there, and I think it will be a tournament to remember and a tournament that these (Italian) girls will never forget.”
Commenting on the Italy Women’s squad, who are back on the World Cup stage for the first time since 2002, he added: “I think they’ve earned their right to be part of this tournament. They were very competitive at times during the Six Nations, it’s a very difficult competition but you can feel there’s a real excitement amongst the group.
“It’s such an incredible experience to go to the World Cup and represent your country at a World Cup, and they’re doing it in a very special country. They just need to do their best at all times, and if they do that they’ll be more than competitive. They will give everything, they are a very proud group of people. They will do themselves and their country proud.”
SPONSORS AON SERVE UP SOCCER TREAT FOR IRELAND WOMEN: Aon, the proud sponsors of the Ireland Women’s rugby team, hosted members of Tom Tierney’s side at the Aviva Stadium on Wednesday night as Manchester United, who are also sponsored by Aon, played Sampdoria as part of the club’s 2017 tour.
Legendary Manchester United and Republic of Ireland full-back Denis Irwin made a special presentation to Ireland players Leah Lyons, Hannah Tyrrell, Jenny Murphy, Katie Fitzhenry and Jeamie Deacon, with a good luck message from Aon’s colleagues from across the globe. Signed Man United and Ireland Women’s rugby jerseys were also exchanged pitchside.
Winger Hannah, whose first sport was soccer, with former United and Ireland captain Roy Keane among her heroes, tweeted: “Thank you to Aon Ireland for the hospitality last night at the Man United game. Bonus meeting the legend that is Denis Irwin.”
Tyrrell and her team-mates enjoyed a short break away from training as Women’s Rugby World Cup 2017 draws ever closer. Aon is a leading global professional services firm providing a broad range of risk, retirement and health solutions. For further information, please see www.aon.ie.
THREE-WORLD CUP VETERAN KNIGHT CALLS TIME ON CAREER: We send our best wishes to USA Women’s rugby great Phaidra Knight who, after missing out on selection for WRWC 2017 at an evergreen 43 years of age, has announced her retirement from international rugby.
A native of Irwinton, Goergia, Knight is the third most-capped US Women’s Eagle in history. “It has been an honour to wear the USA jersey over the past 18 years,” she said following today’s announcement. “I have evolved tremendously as both a student of the game and life. Nothing is more satisfying than leaving the game in a better place than it was when I arrived.”
Debuting for the Eagles against Canada in August 1999, Knight went on to wear the USA jersey 35 times in the front and back rows. She scored two tries as a prop before a change to flanker saw her touch down six times prior to her third and final World Cup selection in 2010. Following the USA’s fifth-place finish that year, she was named ‘Player of the Decade’ by a domestic publication. She had previously been given World team honours for her performances in the 2002 and 2006 World Cups, and travelled to New Zealand for a game against the dominant Black Ferns with the World team in 2003.
A multi-talented individual, she is a graduate of Communications, Political Science and Law, tried out for the USA bobsleigh team for the 2014 Winter Olympics, and is current head coach of the Monroe College Women’s rugby team. Before that, she was a key figure in inspiring New York Rugby Club to a number of national Women’s titles, while she also served as forwards coach at Princeton University from 2015 to 2016.
Knight’s final international cap came as a replacement during the US’s second Can-Am Series clash with Canada in April. She will now focus on her broadcasting career as a member of NBC’s team which will cover the Women’s World Cup in Ireland, as well as continuing to contribute as an athlete representative on the USA Rugby Board of Directors.
She added: “I look forward to advancing my ambassadorship of rugby and sport as I expand as a television and media talent. I’m also geared to focus my attention on expanding as an entrepreneur and greater advocate for women’s sports. There is much work to be done in those arenas. It’s time to roll up my sleeves and make a difference.”
MOLLOY MAKES IT THREE WORLD CUP CAPTAINS FOR BRISTOL: Claire Molloy’s selection as Ireland’s WRWC 2017 captain, in the injury-enforced absence of Niamh Briggs, means that a quarter of the captains at this month’s World Cup will be Bristol Ladies players!
While flanker Molloy will lead host nation Ireland, her Bristol club-mates, Sarah Hunter and Carys Phillips, will skipper defending champions England and Wales respectively. The Cleve RFC-based side were runners-up in last season’s English Women’s Premiership, losing the final to Aylesford Bulls, and will be hoping to hit the ground running in the new 10-team ‘Tyrrells Premier 15s’ league which begins on September 16.
Before then, hooker Phillips, back rowers Molloy and Hunter, and a number of other Bristol squad members will be giving it their all in pursuit of World Cup glory on Irish soil. Bristol Ladies coach Kris de Scossa said: “We’re very proud that the captains of England, Wales and Ireland are all Bristol Ladies Rugby players – it’s a great credit to their attitudes and hard work. They will be fantastic ambassadors for the club throughout the tournament.”
Meanwhile, there has been a late change to England’s 28-strong WRWC 2017 squad. Out-half Emily Scott will not travel having been ruled out through injury. Hooker Vicky Fleetwood has a minor injury and will remain in England to undergo intensive rehab in the next few days. She is set to link up with the squad at a later date during the tournament.
England head coach Simon Middleton has replaced the injured Scott with forward Poppy Cleall, who has 12 caps and featured in all of England’s Six Nations Grand Slam-winning games this season.
“While it’s disappointing for Emily, we know she will rehab diligently working closely with our medical team over the coming weeks and we hope to have her fit and ready on standby if required later in the tournament,” explained Middleton.
“With Vicky remaining in England for the time being, we have opted to call up Poppy, who offers us a bit more balance in the forwards. We have full confidence in Poppy, who has been training in the wider squad on a full-time basis as part of our Rugby World Cup preparations.”
ONE TO WATCH – JULIANNE ZUSSMAN (CANADA): Magali Harvey may have grabbed the headlines at the last Women’s World Cup, but full-back Julianne Zussman could prove to be just as influential during this month’s tournament in Ireland. A real student of the game and a clever reader of play, the pacy and well-balanced runner is back for her third World Cup and is hitting some great form.
She certainly found the Irish conditions to her liking last November with a brace of tries against Ireland at the UCD Bowl, and she notched a double against Australia during June’s International Series in New Zealand. Her try-scoring threat and high-fielding skills were also on display against the USA in this year’s Can-Am Series.
A very consistent performer in her national jersey, the 30-year-old Zussman, who completed her Masters in Sports Administration in Switzerland, made her international debut against Scotland in 2007, and debuted with the Canada Sevens team the following year. Her first taste of World Cup action came in England in 2010, while her growing try tally includes a hat-trick against the US in 2014. She won Rugby Canada’s peer-voted Gillian Florence award for 2016.
Speaking about what it means to her to play for her country, the Castaway Wanderers star said: “Every time you pull on the Canadian jersey, you don’t know if it’ll be your last, and I think there’s something so special about that. It takes a lot of hard work to get there and to put it on, and then that period of your life is so short, so to really relish in the moment is what’s special about wearing the jersey.”
PRE-TOURNAMENT BUZZ: SHARNI WILLIAMS (AUSTRALIA) – “(Our time in camp in Narrabeen) was really beneficial. We really worked on the culture side of things, finding out what our goal is for this tournament, as a collective. Finding out the whys – why do we put this jersey on for each other? I think that was really crucial for us and gives us the trust and belief to go out on that paddock and fight for each other.
“It’s been a massive day (arriving into Dublin) and a very exciting day – my first ever police escort! The preparation part and finding your surroundings is a massive part of it. That’s something we need to set in place to look forward to our game against Ireland.
“Getting our surroundings and finding out where things are helps with that preparation and getting that confidence. Getting ourselves into the pool and getting our recovery underway was really good today. Getting used to our roomies and finding out who snores is all part of that preparation.”
AMELIE SEURE (HONG KONG) – “I was only supposed to come (to Hong Kong) for four months and the next minute it’s 12 years! I played handball back in France but it wasn’t that popular over here in Hong Kong. I played for two years but the standard of play wasn’t as high and not as challenging.
“y boss played rugby and he introduced me to a club. I arrived at the first training session and straight away I realised that there are quite a few similarities between the two sports – catching the ball, sprinting, creating space, etc.
“What is nice about Hong Kong is that it is a very heterogeneous city and everyone is used to seeing different nationalities. Our team reflects that too. We have a few ex-pats and it makes for a very solid and close-knit group because there is an acceptance and respect for each player’s origins. Everyone sees the big picture, we are all here to represent Hong Kong and to do the country proud. It’s my second home and my rugby nation.”
ALISHA BUTCHERS (WALES) – “I started playing rugby when I was six. I played with Llanelli Schoolboys and then Carmarthen Quins girls through the age groups before I got called into the Wales squad. It was a new experience for me and I didn’t know what to expect, but it’s been very enjoyable so far. I’m sure the World Cup will be another level up again.
“I’m really looking forward to the tournament. I can’t emphasise how much the challenge means to me at this stage. I just want to get out to Ireland now. To play at a World Cup is what I’ve always dreamed of since I started playing rugby and to get the chance is just amazing. Training is going really well and it’s all coming together quite nicely now. The girls are working hard and we’re looking forward to making our mark in the tournament. A lot of people aren’t giving us much chance, but we believe we can do something special.
“It’s really exciting to get the chance to play against the second and third best teams in the world. Obviously it’s a very tough draw and we know New Zealand and Canada are big girls. We have a huge amount of respect for them, but we’re looking at ourselves and focusing on what we can do right rather than looking too much at our opposition.
“We’ve played England a few times recently and we met them in a warm-up for this tournament. We can take confidence from the experiences we’ve had in those games and we need to take on New Zealand and Canada. We can’t let them dominate us.”
For more on the 2017 Women’s Rugby World Cup, visit the tournament website – www.rwcwomens.com. Buy your match tickets for #WRWC2017 now on www.ticketmaster.co.uk/wrwc2017 and www.ticketmaster.ie/wrwc2017.