Tuesday 24 April 2018

Ireland finally ready to welcome the world

Ireland captain Claire Molloy with her English counterpart Sarah Hunter. Photo: Laura Hutton/Collins Photo Agency
Ireland captain Claire Molloy with her English counterpart Sarah Hunter. Photo: Laura Hutton/Collins Photo Agency
Cian Tracey

Cian Tracey

The UCD campus is awash with colour as the 12 World Cup teams arrived at their shared Dublin base over the weekend but behind the carnival atmosphere, there is a real sense that the pleasantries are about to be put to one side as the Women's Rugby World Cup finally kicks off on Wednesday.

Ireland - or Dublin and Belfast, to be more specific - will welcome the world in the coming weeks and thankfully, the time for talking is almost is over.

Claire Molloy took her place among the other 11 captains in the UCD cinema yesterday and the confidence with which she spoke reiterated why she is a smart choice to lead Ireland in the injury-enforced absence of regular skipper Niamh Briggs.

For some, this will be the pinnacle of their career, but for others, these are only the first steps of a journey that will ultimately lead to glory.

Pressure

As host nation, Ireland are under pressure, make no mistake about it, but the squad are confident that they can use that weight of expectation to their advantage.

"It is there, we can't ignore it," Molloy admitted. "But we have to take it as a positive. We've got to drive on and just remember it is a game of rugby.

"We are the best 28 rugby players in our country and we've got to represent ourselves and do the simple things right. We don't have to do anything that we haven't done before."

Whatever pressure Ireland are under pales in comparison to the expectation on the shoulders of the England players. The defending champions blitzed the Six Nations and have a wealth of options to choose from.

It helps that they are they only nation who have had the luxury of playing under full-time contracts for the last season, but that brings even more expectancy.

Having led the way for women's rugby, the English RFU have been roundly criticised for deciding to withdraw the players' contracts after the World Cup in order to focus on Sevens and the upcoming Olympics.

It is a serious kick in the teeth for women's rugby but England captain Sarah Hunter believes that the RFU have shown other nations the way.

England's new Super Rugby club competition will begin next month and it is expected that will raise the already lofty standards of the sport.

"The RFU have been the leaders in the 15-a-side game," Hunter insisted. "The RFU have put down a marker to invest in the 15s game and now in the domestic league that we're going to have in September. They obviously have a plan for the 15-a-side game.

"We would like to think that other countries would follow and see that the benefit from it. Hopefully it has been enough for other countries to invest in their 15-a-side players."

Ominously for everyone else, England feel that they are a much better team than the one that won the World Cup three years ago, but the task facing the rest is to scale similar heights.

"I'm living the dream (playing under a full-time contract) and it's something that I never thought I would get to do in my rugby career," Hunter added.

"I thought that I was prepared for the 2014 World Cup as best I could be, but then you realise you weren't when you get to this point.

"I don't think it has necessarily been the last eight months… people will look at that, but actually the work that our coaches, strength and conditioning and medical team have put in over the last three years has all come together now. It means that we can be in the best place that an English team can be in for a World Cup."

Imperative

Like England, Ireland feel that they come into the tournament as well prepared as possible, but getting off to a winning start against Australia on Wednesday is imperative.

The opening pool game has long been sold out (as have Ireland's other two games, against Japan and France) and Molloy is relishing the opportunity to lead out her country in front of a full house at the Belfield Bowl.

"I can't lie to you, of course I've thought about it," she smiled.

"We've done all the body preparation. It is all about going in with the mental preparation and going in there with confidence and backing ourselves.

"There will be nerves for the first game. Every team knows that. There are going to be mistakes. It will be about how we recover from them."

As a nation, Ireland expects but more importantly, the players themselves expect. It promises to be a roller-coaster ride.

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