Thursday 20 June 2019

Ireland's new Call

The Women's Rugby World Cup gives the whole country the chance to get behind women's sport, writes former Ireland captain Fiona Coghlan

Hopes for the future: IRFU Women's Rugby Ambassador Fiona Coghlan, left, and Irish Women's Rugby captain Niamh Briggs. Photo: Piaras Ó Mídheach /
Hopes for the future: IRFU Women's Rugby Ambassador Fiona Coghlan, left, and Irish Women's Rugby captain Niamh Briggs. Photo: Piaras Ó Mídheach /
World-class flanker Claire Molloy. Photo: Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile.
Player to watch: Emily Scarratt of England

On August 9, the eighth Women's Rugby World Cup (WRWC) kicks off in Ireland. We look forward to welcoming the stars of the XVs game to our shores, including reigning World Champions England, who won the World Cup in 2014, and the New Zealand Team, winners in 2010.

We will also host Olympians that have transferred back to the XVs game from the Sevens - a number of the players were medallists in Rio 2016. And we welcome a number of players who will be participating in their first ever World Cup.

In the 24 years since the first international game in 1993, Irish women's rugby has seen significant growth. It took incredible vision and passion for the trailblazers of the game to keep playing when there were a multitude of barriers. Then, the game was fully self-funded by players. As years progressed so did things on and off the pitch. The Irish team got more wins and world rankings improved.

Originally run by the IWRFU (Irish Women's Rugby Football Union), in 2008 the IRFU fully integrated the women's game. This led to continued improvement, but barriers still surrounded the game. It took winning the Six Nations' Grand Slam in 2013 for the public to notice Irish women's rugby - this was followed by beating New Zealand and reaching the World Cup semi-final in 2014.

After this, the IRFU installed the Women's International Programme in the High Performance unit. This meant that, while the players remained amateur, for the first time ever there would be a paid coach, additional international games and more resources. At grassroots level we saw more activity around increasing the number of young girls playing rugby, and the development of pathways to keep these girls in the game.

Across the globe, all aspects of the women's game are on an upward trajectory. The game is played by 2.2million girls and women around the world - that's 25pc of the rugby playing population. The WRWC is used as a vehicle to inspire interest and engagement. Coupled with this, we have seen an increase in commercial partners engaging with the women's game and a dramatic rise in the broadcast interest on international games. These are vital elements to improve standards, and to help women's rugby to maximise its global potential.

In Ireland, there has been positive movement of sponsors engaging in women's sport, but there are still opportunities in this uncluttered and value-for-money market. As companies look at their values and they try to align these with their sponsorships, I think this will add to more sponsors coming into women's sport.

In 2015, the IRFU's bid for this year's Women's World Cup was successful. Since then, there has been lots of work going on to make sure that this tournament is the best to date. Having attended three World Cups, each a progressive jump forward, it is imperative that Ireland put on a world class event - and I am confident that we will.

A Trophy Tour, which has travelled the length and breadth of the country, really captured the imagination and has hopefully inspired the community and the grassroots.

I hope that after hosting the World Cup we will see a big impact, with more women and girls sustainably engaged at all levels of the game.

How will the tournament play out?

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World-class flanker Claire Molloy. Photo: Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile.
 

It is difficult to track the progress of International Women's XVs teams from World Cup to World Cup, due to the lack of international games in the years between tournaments. We are fortunate in Ireland to participate annually in the Six Nations and November International, with games either live on TV or streamed online. Other countries do not have the same opportunities.

The Women's Rugby World Cup takes the same format as the men's U20's World Cup: 12 teams spread over three pools.

In a ruthless schedule, every team will play a game every four days. The winner from each pool and the next best runner-up over the three pools will progress to the semi-finals. All other teams will play ranking games - this means that every point in every pool game is vital.

The tournament requires squads to have strength and depth, so that they can rotate squad for games. This is something that was problematic for Ireland at the WRWC 2014. We couldn't rotate our squad in the pool stages and as a result we were fatigued when it came to semi-final stages.

This year, Pool A appears to be the pool of death. New Zealand and Canada are ranked numbers two and three in the world respectively, and their clash at UCD on August 17 will definitely be one to watch, and could provide one of games of the tournament.

New Zealand has some of the best and most natural rugby players, and they are a team that punishes opponents who make mistakes. Kendra Cocksedge playing at scrum-half has been their general, marshalling the forwards and providing quick ball to an exhilarating back-line that contains the likes of Brazier, Winiata and Woodman.

Canada - finalists in 2014 - play an exciting brand of rugby, looking to run the ball; however, their inability to effectively kick themselves out of danger areas could pose problems against New Zealand. Canada boasts World Rugby player of the Year 2014, Magali Harvey, in the squad, and the captain, Kelly Russell, will drive this team forward at every opportunity. The importance of their games against Wales and Hong Kong will be in the number of points they rack up, which will be vital for progressing.

Wales have potential to cause a minor headache at the start of games but shouldn't challenge the big two. Hong Kong, competing in their first World Cup, will struggle at this level.

Pool B features World No.1 team, England. They are the only fully professional side. I envisage they will ease through their pool, allowing good rotation of their squad. The improvement in their forwards' open play in recent times has been great to watch, with players looking very comfortable on the ball.

Emily Scarratt (below) is one of the finest players in the game, and you will see their forwards working hard in order to get quick ball into space, to see her in full flight.

The USA always performs well at World Cups but lacks experienced players in key positions to really push on. Spain and Italy will fight it out for a ranking position.

Pool C features Ireland. The squad is a good mix of youth and experience - 12 of our players have World Cup experience - but is still lacking depth in key positions. They are capable of beating the teams in their pool. In the Six Nations, a colossal performance from the Irish pack beat France and they can do it again.

Ireland needs the world-class flanker Claire Molloy (right) at her best, and to ensure outhalf Nora Stapleton is on her game. The French can and do pose a huge threat, depending on which French team arrives - they lack an experienced out-half but with players like Mignot, N'Diaye and Lagandous they can beat anyone.

Australia - Olympic Gold medallists for Rugby Sevens - have not developed their XVs game. Having played only five games in three years, they lack experience. The return of Parry and Williams from the Sevens will add to the squad, but it shouldn't be enough to challenge.

Japan impressed on their recent tour of Ireland and have shown huge improvement in recent times. However, they have not played in a World Cup since 1994, and the intensity of the three weeks might prove too much for them. It would be great if there was an "against the odds win", similar to Ireland beating four-times World Champions New Zealand and ultimately knocking them out in 2014. Regardless, there will be world-class games throughout the tournament.

Irish Independent

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