Sport Rugby

Saturday 17 March 2018

So much at stake as a number of players prepare to bow out

Tom Tierney may feel Ireland have nothing to lose. Photo: Sportsfile
Tom Tierney may feel Ireland have nothing to lose. Photo: Sportsfile

Fiona Coghlan

There is a huge amount to lose in today's seventh-eighth-place play-off for Ireland.

If they don't claim seventh place - which was the last automatic qualification spot for this World Cup - whatever coach comes in, or plan that the IRFU had for the next four-year cycle, will be totally changed.

That's the reality. But the players will already want to go out and perform regardless.

Going into this tournament, with some of their age profiles, there were definitely some players planning to retire after it.

So there are girls there who will probably be playing their final game for Ireland today.

There is a great tradition there of wanting to leave the Irish jersey in a better place than when you got it.

In this tournament they won't feel they've done that so far, so players will want to be leaving something for the next generation, to give them that World Cup qualification at least. That will be a huge motivation.

Coach Tom Tierney may feel Ireland have nothing to lose as they haven't performed at all so far.

Maybe that's why he's giving some new players a chance but there is an awful lot at stake here.

Ireland are without Claire Molloy and Jenny Murphy now so there had to be some changes.

The most noticeable are in the backs where Jamie Deacon and Katie Fitzhenry form a new and inexperienced partnership at centre.

Sene Naoupu is the one who loses out. She was shown up a few times in the last game but, again, we come back to systems.

Were her defensive lapses just one person's fault or was it the system that was to blame?

I'm not sure what the thinking is but the back-line certainly hasn't fired so far and maybe Tierney is trying something different to activate that.

Wales are dangerous. I haven't been too impressed by their attack but their defence could cause Ireland trouble.

In their group game they dragged Canada into a 15-0 dog-fight that unexpectedly ruled the Canadians out of the semi-finals because they didn't get the bonus point.

Wales always play quite negative rugby, particularly at the breakdown. They've conceded a high number of penalties so far and picked up three yellow cards. 

Tierney is probably more worried about the breakdown rather than our defence because they've only scored nine tries so far to our 11.

But we only beat them 12-7 in Cardiff in the Six Nations this year and, over the years, our games with them have generally been tight. They always try and close down the game so this could be a lot tougher than some expect.

Ireland have shipped a lot of criticism so far but I think that is testament to how far the women's game has come and the exposure it is getting.

I was annoyed in 2014 when our poor performance in the semi-final against England was not critiqued as toughly as it should have been.

It would be patronising if we didn't analyse this team on the performances we've seen.

Yes, we've had all that grit and determination at the end of games but, overall, the performances just haven't been there and that, ultimately, is what players should always be judged on.

If the weather stays dry then I fancy New Zealand in today's final.

They have played some sensational rugby but do have some weaknesses. Some of their pack don't appear to be as fit as they could be and have given up cheap possession at times. 

England's scoreline against France in their semi-final probably flattered them but they took control of the game when they needed to.

They will look to use their lethal maul and get their well-oiled back-line moving. 

When you have a four-day turnaround you don't necessarily get the quality of play you'd get from fresh teams but I saw these two play in this year's summer series and it was a cracking game.

England won 29-21 and I've no doubt it will be as good again.

It is brilliant to see Joy Neville refereeing it. She was the most instinctive rugby player I played with. We got our first Irish caps together in 2003 and she played until 2013. 

As a player she was a great trainer but she would never have spent much time analysing the game.

On retirement, Dave McHugh (IRFU's head of refereeing) saw her potential. She said no when he approached her initially but he gave her time to adjust and then recruited, supported and mentored her.

This probably won't be the pinnacle of Joyce's refereeing career, given the sharp rise in her trajectory in just three years and her own diligence at self-improvement. 

I'm a complete rugby nerd. I love analysing what's going on but not necessarily from the ref's perspective, so it is annoying now trying to watch a game with Joy.

She's constantly starting, pausing and re-winding - anything to help her improve!

Irish Independent

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