It was another frustrating day for Ireland at the Women’s Rugby World Cup yesterday, but back row star Paula Fitzpatrick is adamant that the tournament hosts will not be lacking desire or commitment when they face Wales in Saturday’s 7th-8th place play-off at Kingspan Stadium (kick-off 2pm).
Ireland suffered a 36-24 loss to Australia at Kingspan Stadium in a 5th-8th place play-off, and following their comprehensive 52-point defeat to Canada at Queen’s University, the Welsh will be the final opponents for Tom Tierney’s charges in this home World Cup.
While they were aiming to at least replicate their run through to the semi-final stage from 2014, Paula Fitzpatrick is aware of how crucial it will be for Ireland to finish seventh this weekend and secure automatic qualification for the next World Cup in four years’ time.
“There’s still a game to play and there’s plenty of people who would kill to be at a World Cup, and we get the chance to be here. Even Ruth O’Reilly had to be sent home through injury, players missing out on selection in the first place back in May,” she said in the immediate aftermath of the Australia match.
“It’s not a case of us wanting to go home in any way, shape or form. Whoever we face (whether it’s Canada, whether it’s Wales), we’ll throw absolutely everything we have into it. That’s the way we’re built, that’s the way we’re designed. That’s the way we’ve trained to play.”
Fitzpatrick captained Ireland in the absence of the injured Niamh Briggs during this year’s Six Nations, and after Claire Molloy was withdrawn early on against the Wallaroos due to a head injury, Fitzpatrick once again took on the key leadership role.
The 32-year-old forward, who is Ireland’s leading WRWC 2017 try scorer with three tries, praised Australia for the physicality they brought to the game at the home of Ulster Rugby, and she felt that a lack of execution again let the home side down.
“Our goal that we set out before we got here was a semi-final spot, and we haven’t achieved that. Very disappointing. Today, I suppose, we didn’t stick to the game-plan, we didn’t execute the way we wanted to. We knew what was coming at us, the physicality that Australia would bring. All credit to them, they really put it up to us there and they won that battle. That’s really what lost it for us, missed tackles and tackle height.”
A number of retirements are expected in the Irish camp following the World Cup, with 10 of Tom Tierney’s squad aged between 32 and 37, and it is hoped that the new generation of Irish players, including the likes of Nicole Cronin, Ciara Griffin and Leah Lyons, will push on over the next couple of seasons.
With that in mind, Fitzpatrick believes the current girls in green need to make it possible for the rising stars of Irish Women’s rugby to play on the biggest stage of all. “We’ve always spoken about leaving the jersey in a better place, and that is part of that,” she reflected.
“Leaving it for the next generation coming through, so that they have the chance to come to a World Cup as well, and put Ireland in that upper echelon of teams. We need to be there. We’re a quality Six Nations side. We haven’t performed in this World Cup, absolutely, but we need to be at a World Cup.”
Ireland had a vocal support behind them for the pool stages in UCD, and right up until Fitzpatrick’s try on the stroke of 80 minutes, the crowd in Belfast continued to make their voices heard yesterday. The St. Mary’s clubwoman is grateful to the fans for the way they have cheered on Ireland throughout the tournament to date, even when it was not going their way on the pitch.
“It has been fantastic. The crowd, despite maybe not performing as well as we would have liked, have stuck behind us the whole way regardless, as all Irish crowds do. A huge thanks to them for their support today and throughout the whole tournament,” she added.
For more on the 2017 Women’s Rugby World Cup, visit the tournament website – www.rwcwomens.com. Buy your match tickets for the climax of #WRWC2017 in Belfast this Saturday on www.ticketmaster.co.uk/wrwc2017 and www.ticketmaster.ie/wrwc2017.