Tuesday 24 April 2018

We will get better as World Cup goes on, vows Spence

Sophie Spence poses for a selfie with a supporter after Ireland’s victory over Australia at Belfield. Photo: Sportsfile
Sophie Spence poses for a selfie with a supporter after Ireland’s victory over Australia at Belfield. Photo: Sportsfile
Cian Tracey

Cian Tracey

Long after the euphoria that shook the UCD Bowl had died down, the Ireland squad made the short trip back to their campus accommodation pleased with their night's work but deeply aware that major improvements are needed before they play France next Thursday.

Before that, there is the small matter of dealing with Japan and, as much as the coaches and players will likely hype up the challenge that lies ahead on Sunday, it should in reality be no more than a formality.

There is no doubt that Ireland benefited hugely from Australia's lack of preparation time as the Wallaroos opted to put all their eggs in the sevens basket but a gutsy win with plenty of work-ons is a fine start to the tournament.

To add to the feel-good atmosphere surrounding the squad, Jenny Murphy, who had to come off injured, was given the all-clear by the medics to hand Tom Tierney a full deck to pick from.

Consistency in selection will have a major say in how far this journey takes Ireland but a four-day turn-around after a brutally physical encounter may tempt the coach into making changes against Japan.

Much was made of Tierney's decision to leave Sophie Spence on the bench on Thursday and even though his plan worked to perfection, her impact as well as Ciara Griffin's was so powerful that neither can be too far away from a starting berth.

Improvements are needed across the board, particularly in the scrum and at half-back where Ireland's attacking platform must be based if they are to challenge the best teams.

Tierney pointed to it afterwards but his side's exit strategy was poor and that largely came as a result of poor kicks

In turn, it meant that the pack, who were already getting through a ferocious amount of work, were asked to carry hard from deep inside their own territory in a bid to get Ireland going in the right direction again.

"You can't go into a first game and everything is going to be perfect," Spence maintained.

"You've got to fix things as you go along. We are an extremely tight squad and as we go through things to take that next step, we'll get better and better."

The expectation is that Ireland will get better. After all, this is a side who generally take a couple of games to find their feet.

Depth The last three years have been spent building a squad with enough depth and quality to challenge for the World Cup and even though it remains to be seen if the IRFU have managed to achieve that, Spence is in no doubt that her side are ready to take that next step.

"We've been building in different positions," the lock added.

"We've had girls come across from different sports. The preparations that we've had have made different combinations work together so we have created more depth within the squad."

The Japan game should allow Ireland to make the required improvements, but they must also be mindful of taking their opponents too lightly.

There is a fine line between arrogance and confidence - finding the right balance between the two should ensure that the hosts head into next week's pool decider full of confidence.

Irish Independent

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