Ahead of the start of World Rugby’s new annual global Women’s 15s competition, players representing the 12 nations competing in WXV2 and WXV3 gathered in Cape Town and Dubai respectively.
Women’s rugby is ready to take its ‘biggest step forward’ this weekend as the inaugural WXV tournaments get underway, with Ireland, coached by Scott Bemand, competing in three rounds of matches in Dubai.
Ireland’s opening clash with Kazakhstan on Friday (kick-off 7.30pm local time/4.30pm Irish time) will be streamed live on RugbyPass TV. You can register for free to watch all the WXV3 action here.
It is hoped that WXV can help supercharge the Test game by giving national teams access to more top level matches.
That was certainly a sentiment echoed by the players who gathered earlier today to take part in the tournament photocall. Representing Ireland at the event was Aoife Doyle, the 17-times capped winger.
“We’re feeling really good, we’ve had a great couple of weeks at home to get set for the heat over here,” explained Doyle, who is part of Bemand’s 30-strong squad for Ireland’s WXV debut.
“We arrived on Friday evening and already had two pitch sessions so we’re feeling good and ready. We’re really looking forward to getting going now.
It’s been a long couple of weeks getting together as a squad and getting ready for the tournament, so we’re just ready to go out and face Kazakhstan in round one on Friday.
“The team are feeling really confident, (the coaching led by Scott) is so fresh and so new, but it’s also really positive and there’s a really good vibe and feeling about the squad. We’re all just feeling energised and ready to go now.”
Little is known about Ireland’s first round opponents, Kazakhstan, especially as they did not play on the 15s international stage between 2019 and 2022. Their Union concentrated on Sevens during that time, but WXV gives them a fresh opportunity to compete again.
Kazakhstan got to host this year’s Asia Rugby Women’s Championship in Almaty, where a core group of their players have been training full-time in recent months thanks to government support. They finished as runners-up behind Japan.
Their best result came in their opening game of the Asian Championship, beating Hong Kong China 27-23 thanks to a brace of tries each from Amina Tulegenova, who unfortunately misses the WXV3 competition, and Yelena Yurova.
Speaking at the WX3 photocall, Kazakhstan captain Karina Sazontova commented: “This is a big step in us being able to bring Kazakhstan Women’s rugby back to the world rugby scene. Preparation has been pretty long and hard but we’re really excited to be here.
“We’ve been away from international rugby for a while and we’re now back with a new team, new girls and a giant fire in our eyes to play and bring our rugby back to the highest level.
“This is a really big moment for us and we want to make the game as successful in our country as it was for our ancestors, for my first coach and everyone else involved with Kazakhstan Rugby.”
Ireland and Kazakhstan have played each other in both codes before, most notably at the 2010 and 2014 Rugby World Cups where the girls in green won two pool fixtures, 37-3 and 40-5, respectively. Current backs coach Niamh Briggs was a try scorer during that first encounter.
There were also other matches going back to 1998, also at a World Cup, and 2000, while Ireland won the bronze medal decider at the World Rugby Global Repechage tournament for the 2016 Olympics, overcoming Kazakhstan 17-5 at UCD to retain their World Series status.
Doyle was part of that Sevens squad over seven years ago, along with Briggs, and ran in a brace of tries against Kazakhstan’s ‘Nomads’. Now 28, the Limerick native is one of the most experienced members of Bemand’s group in Dubai, which has an average age of just 23.
The new Ireland head coach has selected an experienced pack for the WXV3 opener. With 36 caps between them, Edel McMahon and Sam Monaghan will make their first appearances as co-captains up front.
Sevens stars Eve Higgins and Béibhinn Parsons are back for their first 15s run-outs for Ireland since the 2022 Six Nations. There is also plenty of excitement about potential debuts off the bench for the Leinster trio of Sarah Delaney, Megan Collis and Eimear Corri.
“There will be an enormous amount we don’t know (about Kazakhstan) and will have to discover in-game,” admitted Bemand, speaking at the team announcement press conference.
“We have some (footage of games) we can rely on, but this first game in a new competition with a new coaching group, with a newish team, I think most of the focus is going to be on ourselves, to be honest.
I think in any elite environment, results can potentially become habitual. From what I’ve seen in camp, we’ve spent some time together before coming out to Dubai, and a key thing we’re going after is our training identity.
“What I’m seeing on the pitch is that the girls are becoming more confident. We’re really looking forward to the next three games to continue to build confidence in the Test environment. A good game against Kazakhstan is the ideal place to start that.”