There's still a lot to work on, Doyle warns Irish heroines
Published 07/08/2014 | 02:30
"Gone are the days when we go out and try and stop teams. We know what we're capable of and we have to believe that we can win the World Cup."
These were the words of Ireland women's captain Fiona Coghlan prior to the World Cup finals in France.
A week later and two wins out of two – including Tuesday's historic victory over New Zealand – Coghlan's rallying call looks as much inspired as it was realistic.
That sense of self-belief has been a recurring theme throughout the Ireland squad. The experience of Coghlan has rubbed off on several of her younger team-mates, while driving them all collectively is Philip Doyle, whose stock as a top-class coach is rapidly growing.
"We've just won a game in the World Cup. We've now got one foot inside a semi-final of a World Cup and that is as far as it is," Doyle reflected in the aftermath of the stunning 17-14 win over the Black Ferns.
Ireland face Kazakhstan in their final pool game on Saturday and given that the minnows are rooted to the foot of Pool B, are without a single point and have conceded bonus points in their opening two games, it would take a massive upset for Doyle's side not to reach the last four of the competition for the first time.
But such is the attitude in the Irish camp no one is getting ahead of themselves just yet.
"We've achieved nothing until the final whistle of the tournament. It's just a group game in a World Cup – though a very big group game – but no, we've got a lot to go yet," said Doyle.
"I am so proud of the girls. So proud. They've worked incredibly hard and there has always been this performance in us.
"Things didn't go perfectly and we have a lot to work on, that's for sure. A few things malfunctioned, but we kept to the task and we got the result."
The notion that Ireland could have beaten a New Zealand side that had only lost once since in the tournament's history and still have "a lot to work on" speaks volumes for how far women's rugby in this country has come.
"We analyse teams nearly to death sometimes, but we did notice in previous games that New Zealand can crack under pressure. When you are in their face they do get a bit sloppy."
Doyle's level of scrupulous detail has been one of the major foundations of Ireland's success in recent years. He will leave his post at the end of the World Cup and whoever steps into his shoes will have a huge task of building on what has gone before.
Niamh Briggs, whose nerves of steel from dead balls has helped Ireland to victory in both their opening two games, was quick to point to the work of Ireland's coaching team and, in particular, the mental strength that they have instilled in the squad.
"We've got great belief in our squad and the coaches really instill that in us. We've shown in the last couple of games that we can win when we put our minds to it.
"The last two victories will count for nothing, though, if we don't beat Kazakhstan," Briggs added.
With Doyle at the helm, there is a sense that expectations inside the camp at least, will very much be kept in check.
"We've now got one foot inside a semi-final of a World Cup and that is as far as it is," Doyle reiterated.
"Now we look to the next game – Kazakhstan. Step three in our little plan. That is all we are looking at."
The belief that Ireland's "little plan" could turn into something even greater has suddenly become a lot more real.
How the New Zealand media reacted to Ireland's victory over the Black Ferns
Ireland's 17-14 win over the Black Ferns on Tuesday was the first time that an Irish rugby team defeated New Zealand in a senior match in either the men's or women's game.
What made the victory even sweeter was the fact that it was the first time the Ireland women had faced New Zealand – a side that had lost in only one previous World Cup game (1991) and were bidding for their fourth consecutive title.
Here is how the New Zealand media reacted to the defeat.
The New Zealand Herald:
"Ireland's big pack ripped into their work and scarcely let up for 80 minutes. It was a tribute to their organisation and set-piece ability, where they shunted the Black Ferns off the ball once and should have been awarded a penalty try on another.
"They also presented a disciplined defensive line, shutting down the Black Ferns so well that dangerous outside backs Honey Hireme and Huriana Manuel hardly saw any ball."
TV NZ, One News:
"The four-time champions have had a mortgage on the women's game for the past generation but the Grand Slam-winning Ireland team proved times are changing. With superior fitness and skills to match, Ireland very much deserved their win as they all but booked their place in the semi-finals in front of an impressive contingent of Irish fans."
Otago Daily Times:
"Ireland pulled off one of the greatest ever shocks in women's rugby by beating reigning champions New Zealand 17-14 in their World Cup pool match in Marcoussis, France.
"It was only the Black Ferns' second defeat at a World Cup since the tournament began in 1991, ending a run of 20 games unbeaten during which they won the trophy four times in a row."
Official New Zealand rugby Twitter account:
"Congratulations to the Irish Women, who have done what their men have never been able to do, defeat NZ in a Test match! #WRWC2014"
Which was quickly deleted and changed to:
"The last time the #BlackFerns lost at a #WRWC, the team that defeated them (USA) won the tournament. Are the Irish now favourites?"