Friday 22 September 2017

Fiona Coghlan: Ireland have quality to reach semi-finals but lack of back-up to Stapleton at out-half a concern

8 August 2017; Nora Stapleton of Ireland during the Ireland Women's Rugby Captains Run at UCD, in Dublin. Photo by Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile
8 August 2017; Nora Stapleton of Ireland during the Ireland Women's Rugby Captains Run at UCD, in Dublin. Photo by Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile

Fiona Coghlan

Before the first ball has been kicked this Women's Rugby World Cup is already at a different level than ever before.

The teams were greeted in Dublin Airport with specially grown shamrock from East Clare and a Garda escort to accompany them.

There was a huge opening ceremony - celebrating Irish arts and culture - in the Mansion House on Sunday night which really blew the teams away and made me really proud that we have the opportunity to host this wonderful event involving so many countries from around the world.

The Australian girls and all the refs also went to the All-Ireland hurling semi-final between Galway and Tipperary in Croke Park on Sunday. All of these little touches have set a standard like never before.

People wonder if the event will take off outside the initial bubble of UCD, where all of the group stages are played and where all the teams are staying.

I think it already has, thanks to the trophy tour which travelled over 25,000km and visited 274 different events.

It has been brilliant, while the media exposure around the occasion so far has been excellent too. Obviously, we do need Ireland to do well to keep that momentum going.

How far can they go? The semi-finals at least.

We've avoided the top three - England (1), New Zealand (2) and Canada (3) - in our pool and shown already this year that we can beat France. I definitely think we can beat Australia and Japan.

Australia, who we play today, have invested very little really in 15s rugby recently.

They've only played five Tests in three years and three of those were this summer. Their match-day squad only has 141 caps in total and the highest capped player only has 15 caps.

They'll be physical and athletic but I wonder about their cohesion.

However, with just 12 teams it's a really tough tournament and every game is win at all costs.

One worry is our kicking without the experienced Niamh Briggs. When she missed the Six Nations, our kicking stats were significantly down on what they are when she's in the team.

Because 'Briggsy' was an injury concern for some time, I presume that this is something the Ireland coaching team will have worked on with Nora (Stapleton, first-choice kicker), Jenny Murphy (left) and Hannah Tyrrell.

Another worry is that there's no other specialist out-half in the squad other than Nora.

But while Briggsy's absence is a blow to our kicking there will be no leadership void.

Claire Molloy's been given the captaincy because she's a world-class player and leads by the way she plays.

There are other great leaders too like Paula (Fitzpatrick), Maz Reilly (an unbelievable influence within the squad), Nora (who has a very strategic mind) and new players like Lindsay Peat have also risen to the task.

You also have characters who add a bit of craic, like Jenny Murphy and Larissa Muldoon. In a long tournament with so much at stake and such intensity, it's important to lighten the mood sometimes.

Squad selection is always tough. If people aren't upset by it then they are in the wrong place but it's even tougher when you are living with each other 24/7 so, in 2014, led by Grace Davitt, we discussed and agreed on a transparent communication system for selection days.

Privacy

We agreed that an email would be sent at 5pm so players could read it in privacy if they wanted and also have time, before dinner at 7pm, to approach the coaches for feedback.

That way all players were kept engaged and all the focus was kept on the task at hand.

I've heard people wondering why games aren't in Donnybrook but the format for the last two World Cups has been a campus model and it has worked very well.

Yes, Donnybook has two pitches, but the main one is 4G and it doesn't have the facilities or off-pitch space that UCD has.

I'd always prefer to play in a small sold-out stadium than anywhere that's bigger and emptier.

Maybe they didn't expect the interest that it's garnered but it's probably just the Irish games that are going to be sold out.

People may not have realised how popular the event was going to be but the play-offs, semi-finals and final, all in Belfast, still haven't sold out and, whatever happens, Ireland are still going to be playing in Kingspan Stadium as it's also hosting the placing play-offs.

Irish Independent

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