Fiona Coghlan on the Women’s Rugby World Cup 2017

By Liberty Insurance Ireland on 11 August 2017
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Former Irish rugby international Fiona Coghlan talks about Ireland’s women’s rugby team and looks ahead to the 2017 Women’s Rugby World Cup.

Fiona Coghlan on Ireland’s Women’s Rugby

The last three years have gone by in the blink of an eye. From August 2014 there have been significant developments in Women’s rugby in Ireland. Firstly The Women’s National XVs teams were taken under the High Performance Unit of the IRFU, which meant a paid coach for the first time, more camps together, more Internationals and improvement in support structure around the team. Then came the bid for and the winning of the Women’s Rugby World Cup 2017. There has been a colossal amount of work gone on behind the scenes to ensure that this World Cup is the best there ever has been.

Overcoming the barriers and ultimately gaining success and exposure has endeared the Irish Women’s rugby team into the public’s conscience

Women’s Rugby World Cup 2017

Am I jealous that this group of players get to play in a home World Cup? Yes.

But my overriding emotions are pride and excitement. The opportunity to bring the best of Women’s Rugby to Ireland is a hugely proud moment for everyone that has ever been involved in the Women’s game here. It has been a relatively short journey but one that had many barriers along the way. Overcoming the barriers and ultimately gaining success and exposure has endeared the Irish Women’s rugby team into the public’s conscience.

This tournament will be a success. All pool match day tickets have sold out and semi final and final tickets are selling strong. The global broadcasting and media interest is higher than any previous tournament. In Ireland Eir Sport will show all the games and RTE will show all Irish games and the final. There is more interest from sponsors. The fan experience will be great. In UCD there will be a fanzone in between the 2 pitches, where Irish fans will be the life and soul of the party, as they so often are. Hopefully the Irish team can add to this by going one better than 2014 and get to the final.

There has been much talk about the choice of venue for the pools and its capacity, with tickets selling well in advance. There are guidelines from World Rugby about the venue that have to be adhered to and also tickets sales are a difficult thing to gauge in the planning stages of any event. Having played in big venues, I would definitely prefer to play in sold out small venue than a larger venue with empty seats. However the country that wins the 2021 bid should definitely look for a larger venue for the pools games, to drive the game even further.

The trophy tour which started on the 17th of March has been a wonderful success having travelled over 24,000km (4000km more than the Web Ellis travelled around the UK), predominately visiting schools and clubs

The overall success of this tournament for me is what happens after the 26th August. The impact and the legacy, beyond the tournament. Will we engage & encourage more people into the game, whether that be players, coaches, referees, administrators and fans? This process has already started. The trophy tour which started on the 17th of March has been a wonderful success having travelled over 24,000km (4000km more than the Web Ellis travelled around the UK), predominately visiting schools and clubs. The Irish players have been great, getting out into the community and meeting players of the future. The clubs now need to jump on this upsurge of interest and take ownership of the girls’ and women’s teams. Parents need to support and encourage their kids to get involved & hopefully they will stay involved. This is a golden opportunity that has rugby to the fore, as a sport of choice.

Now to the tournament itself; the structure & scheduling of games can only be described as ruthless. There are 3 pools with 4 teams in each pool. Each pool winner and the next best team across the pools, advance to the semi-finals. Add to this that there is a game every 4 days. There is a need for strength and depth in your squad and coaches will have a tough task of who plays in what game in order to maximise their opportunity of advancing.

Ireland have been lucky to avoid the top three teams of England, NZ and Canada but have a difficult pool game against the French that they must overcome. 4 months ago they did just that in the 6 Nations so the odds are slightly swayed in Ireland’s favour. Ireland also face Australia and Japan, while every team poses a threat, without being complacent Ireland should have the players and experience to beat these two teams.

World Cups are different in the sense of their intensity on and off the pitch and there can be no room for slip ups. It would be great for the competition if there was an “against the odds win” similar to Ireland beating NZ in 2014. There will be some 1 sided games in the pool stages where the likes of Hong Kong will struggle against Canada and NZ. England should get through their pool without much difficulty. I suspect Ireland’s Pool will see closer score lines.

The games to watch in pools will be Canada v NZ, Ireland v France, Italy v Spain and Australia v Japan, these could make for entertaining games and then once you reach semi-final stages, although players are getting tired, I expect the standard and competitiveness of games to be high.

I predict an England v NZ final.

Niamh Briggs

Having attended 3 world cups unfortunately at each one we have had players ruled out either just before the competition or in the competition. To see your team-mate suffer these blows isn’t easy but you have a job to do and little time to mourn the loss

There are many tough days in sport but a player being struck with injury has to be one of the toughest for that player. I feel like a fraud talking about injury because I was very lucky in my playing career, all my injuries were cosmetic or superficial, that it never ruled me out for long periods.

Having attended 3 world cups unfortunately at each one we have had players ruled out either just before the competition or in the competition. To see your team-mate suffer these blows isn’t easy but you have a job to do and little time to mourn the loss.

Last week Niamh Briggs was ruled out of a home World Cup. After working hard to return from a hamstring injury she picked up a supplementary Achilles injury. Hours of rehab and no doubt questioning if you will get back, to be ruled out by a new injury is even harder to take. Niamh had only played one International game in the last 16 months so during this time the squad have dealt with not having her around, so in that sense it shouldn’t affect them too much. Players have stepped up into leadership roles and have dealt with demanding situations over that time. Paula Fitzpatrick ably led the squad during the November Internationals and Six Nations and now seasoned International and former Sevens captain Claire Molloy will take over the reigns. Beyond that you will have the likes of Ailis Egan, Maz Reilly and Sene Naoupu adding to the decision making process on the pitch. Ultimately ever player must take ownership of their own role and how they can add to the squad and the campaign.

However Ireland have lost one of their most threatening players. It was clear to see in the WRWC 2014 what Niamh was capable of in her counter attack, setting up the scintillating try for Alison Miller. Her kicking prowess from the hand and tee will also put Ireland under more pressure. Kicking duties will fall on the shoulders of Nora Stapleton. No doubt losing any player from your squad is deflating but the squad do not have time to ponder on this. They have a job to do.

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