Australia lay out first tournament goal: to beat Ireland
Shannon Perry leads Australia’s best prepared team ever as it bids for top four slot
Australia captain Shannon Parry. Photograph: ©INPHO/Oisin Keniry
Not only that. Australia have targeted an upset over Ireland on Wednesday night as one of their early tournament goals. That’s as Ireland might expect it but this year Australian intentions have changed. There is more ambition. They see the first match as a door to their dream of a top four place.
Prior to arriving in Dublin, the Australian Rugby Foundation helped fund a Test series against women’s rugby’s big three: England, New Zealand and Canada.
England won 53-10, New Zealand beat them 44-17 in Christchurch, and Canada ran in seven tries en route to a 45-5 victory. But with defeat came greater self-awareness and clear areas where they had to improve.
“We’ve had our best preparation ever,” says Parry. “And we’ve been able to blood some younger players as well as keep hold of the experienced ones.”
Factor into that their Sevens stars Sharni Williams and captain Parry, who both won gold medals in the Rio Olympics last year, are healthy and in the squad.
“We’ve got three Sevens players who have come back,” she says. “So yeah, there is only a few of us but we are really looking forward to the challenge of the World Cup. I think the Sevens’ players will be able to impart their knowledge and experience to other players and that’s been really beneficial for us.”
That win culture and Parry’s experience of the path to gold in Rio, she hopes will give Australia their best results to date. The Wallaroos finished seventh in the 2014 World Cup in France.
“It was a phenomenal experience for the Australian Seven’s squad. For us it was a phenomenal feat,” she says. “We left everything three years ago to chase that dream of an Olympic gold medal and for it to come true was just a phenomenal event, not just for Australian rugby but for women’s sport in general.
“We’ve seen a huge boost in popularity among a lot of sports. It’s been good for the game.”
Ireland at fifth in the World Rugby rankings are one place above sixth-placed Australia and one behind fourth-placed France, who are also in Ireland’s Group C.
“I think for us the initial first-up win against Ireland, that would totally set our platform for this campaign and for us,” she says.
“We’re going to aim for top four and we’re very firm on that. But we need to focus on Ireland first.
“We all know if you drop a game you pretty much can’t make top four so there’s a lot riding on that first game against Ireland.”
Far from open, expansive rugby, the Australians, through their coach Scott Allen, have already said that they must target Ireland’s set piece if they are to cause the hosts their first headache. They have been analysing Ireland’s Six Nations matches and have seen Ireland’s maul off the back of the lineout as one area they must successfully contest as well as Irish centres bumping up the middle.
“I definitely think they’re going to come out of the blocks,” says the Rio gold medallist. “They’ve got a very strong forward pack. The line out is their key and they’ve got a very strong maul which they run off the back of the line out.
“It’s something we’ve looked into and really focused on and they’ve got some big, busting inside and outside centres. I think they’ll try to break us up in the middle and then go wide to their speed.
“We’ve looked at a number of things and a number of avenues we think they’re going to target, but in saying that on the day they could come out with something completely different.”
Probably not very much different on firm ground in UCD, where Ireland play their pool games. But the home side have wins over New Zealand and England in recent years, scalps about which Australia are not unaware.
But the mood music of Australia is different this time and although the Sevens win in Rio is in another branch of the sport, that success and their defeat of New Zealand in the Olympic final has transformed attitudes and given hope to the XV, where there was little before.
“I think it will be one of the biggest packed houses we’ve ever seen for women’s rugby,” says Parry of the opening game in the Belfield Bowl.
“Obviously last World Cup Australia played France and there was a lot on that last game and that was huge over there. But I just can’t wait for this. The Irish are always huge vocal supporters and they’ve embraced women’s rugby, which is really pleasing to see.”
Drama from the first kick of the ball.