Marie Louise Reilly ready to stand tall against a powerful USA

Ireland’s preparations have gone well ahead of today’s World Cup opening game in Paris

Ireland’s Marie Louise Reilly: expects a tough test  against a powerful American team in today’s opening World Cup game.

Ireland’s Marie Louise Reilly: expects a tough test against a powerful American team in today’s opening World Cup game.


Standing at 6ft 3ins, Marie Louise Reilly cuts an imposing figure. At the French rugby headquarters in Marcoussis yesterday, she was also a relaxed one.

The impressive complex outside Paris has served as a base for the Irish women’s rugby team since Sunday and it is also where Reilly will take to the field against the USA in Ireland’s World Cup opener this afternoon.

The Old Belvedere secondrow was at ease, perhaps, because Ireland’s preparations have been so comprehensive. The team have held seven training camps since the Six Nations finished and the build-up included training sessions with Joe Schmidt and Less Kiss of the men’s side. This year Ireland were unable to repeat their 2013 Grand Slam win but belief remains strong that the women can challenge the best, including group favourites and world number one New Zealand.

“I suppose it’s always going to be difficult on the back of a big win like that but at the same time I think we played really well,” Reilly said of Ireland’s Six Nations campaign. “We were obviously away to England and France which is always going to be harder. I think we were only within seven points against England and four points against France so we’re there or thereabouts again. I think France, England and New Zealand are obviously the favourites going into this tournament so we’re not far off them.”

Tough test

Ireland beat Wales and Spain in warm-up matches but a tough test is expected against a powerful American team. A veteran of the last World Cup campaign, Reilly was on the side that beat the USA in the group stages in 2010.

Now 34 and a sports development officer with Dublin City Council, she has progressed hugely since taking up the game in 2005. Back then, as a student in Tralee, she slotted in at fullback to make up the numbers. “I kind of fell in love with it straightaway,” she recalled. “I hadn’t a clue what was going on and had to start watching a bit on the TV. I know when we came back up then and tried out for Leinster and started playing with Navan again it was a case of the whole family getting involved in it.

“We’d be laying out the tomato sauce bottle and the salt and pepper on the table trying to figure out what lineouts were when they eventually swapped me into secondrow.”

The women’s game in Ireland is coming on strong too, thanks in no small part to the Six Nations triumph last year.

Overall, she believes that the added responsibility that comes with being under increased scrutiny is something that her team can thrive on. “I think that from the Grand Slam we realised what we can do as a group together. It was a case of trying to constantly push and look for more and not settle for that at all,” said Reilly.

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