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Friday 19 September 2014

Doyle braces rising Ireland for 'tough' All Blacks test

Published 05/08/2014 | 02:30

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Ireland's Alison Miller evades a tackle from Vanesha McGee of the US during the Women's Rugby World Cup pool B clash in Paris. Photo: Aurélien Meunier / SPORTSFILE
Ireland's Alison Miller evades a tackle from Vanesha McGee of the US during the Women's Rugby World Cup pool B clash in Paris. Photo: Aurélien Meunier / SPORTSFILE

The rising tide that is Ireland's women's rugby team faces arguably its stiffest test yet when they clash with New Zealand in the World Cup in France later today.

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The national team and the game in general has made huge strides in recent years, with Philip Doyle's charges winning the Grand Slam a year ago while also playing matches in stadia such as Twickenham and Lansdowne Road earlier this year as part of the ever-burgeoning popularity the game is enjoying here.

But a first meeting with New Zealand in Marcoussis, Paris, will be the clearest indication yet of just how much Ireland have progressed.

The Kiwis are odds-on favourites to go all the way in this tournament and make it five World Cup crowns on the bounce.

And they laid down a marker in their opening group game when destroying Kazakhstan 79-5 and running in 13 tries in the process in a devastating display.

Ireland also got off to a winning start when edging out the USA 23-17 in a tight affair in their opener.

It was a significant win for Doyle's team given that the Americans are two places above Ireland in the world rankings while the result further underlined the progress Ireland have made, given that they lost 40-3 to the same opposition when they met at the World Cup four years ago.

It also gave Ireland a win against a physically bigger team, something they struggled with earlier this year when facing the bulk of the French and English teams in the Six Nations. They boxed clever to engineer two tries from Ailis Egan and Niamh Briggs against an organised US team.

That was a draining encounter was described a "very physical" by Fiona Coghlan but Ireland's fitness levels have improved greatly in recent years and they have made just one change from that game despite having just four days to recover. Paula Fitzpatrick gets the nod to start at blindside with Siobhan Fleming named in the replacements.

Jenny Murphy is also held in reserve and she'll look to make an impact when introduced as she did against the Americans with her direct running. As ever Briggs' goal-kicking will be vital as opportunities are likely to be limited against a superb New Zealand side.

Scrum-half Tania Rosser's form has earned her plaudits and the Blackrock and Leinster star will earn her 50th cap against her native country with Doyle expecting a bruising encounter.

"We have prepared for a tough test, we are focusing on how we are going to play our game and we have to play as well as we can," he said.

Not many fancy Ireland to topple the defending world champions but with the three pool winners and the best runner-up advancing to the semi-finals, Ireland would keep their chances alive with a losing bonus point going into the final pool match with the Kazakhs on Saturday.

Verdict: New Zealand

Ireland: N Briggs, A Baxter, L Cantwell, G Davitt, A Miller; N Stapleton, T Rosser; F Coghlan, G Bourke, A Egan; A Spence, ML Reilly; P Fitzpatrick, C Molloy, H O'Brien. Reps: S Lynch, F Hayes, L Guest, S Fleming, L Muldoon, J Murphy, V McGinn.

Other World Cup fixtures: USA v Kazakhstan (12.00pm), Australia v Wales (2.00pm), England v Spain (2.45pm), Canada v Samoa (4.00pm), France v South Africa (7.45pm)

IRELAND V NEW ZEALAND, LIVE, TG4/SKY SPORTS 1, 5.00pm

Irish Independent

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