Ireland meet Wallaroos again with reputations on the line
World Cup dream may be over but Belfast fixture begins a two-game salvage job
Ireland’s Ciara Cooney during practice ahead of her side’s second clash with Australia in Belfast. Photograph: Inpho/Dan Sheridan
Ireland v Australia, Kingspan stadium, 2pm - live RTÉ 2 and eir Sport
This feels like another time, another place.
“Training became more intense, players were nervous, and we were trapped in a vicious circle. The attitude was: we need to work harder, train harder.
“I remember sitting in the gloomiest team room imaginable. We were travelling the next morning from Bordeaux to Paris by TGV.”
That was Geordan Murphy, in his autobiography The Outsider, as the men’s 2007 World Cup dream crumbled all around them.
They returned home a week later after an utterly failed campaign that had begun with the players insisting Ireland were contenders to win the tournament. That, for many well-worn reasons, ended up being a delusional mindset.
Maybe the next few days in Belfast will be different. Maybe the women will flick a switch that their male counterparts were unable to find. Maybe they will ease away from the punishing, highly predictable and largely pointless loyalty to pick and jam rugby.
Maybe they will seize control of their destiny with a performance good enough to give them a tilt at Canada, who are expected to improve upon their 15-0 victory over Wales in the Pool stages, and a respectable fifth place can still be achieved.
Evidence tells us otherwise. The Wallaroos, who Ireland beat 19-17 on a deeply concerning match night one, are getting the hang of this 15-a-side lark. What we are seeing from the Sevens Olympic gold medallists is vastly superior ball handling and set piece solidity sorely absent from the Irish pack. The stunning pace of winger Mahalia Murphy was again on show in their 29-15 victory over Japan last Thursday.
Australia, however, have lost captain and superb flanker Shannon Parry to an elbow injury.
Ireland coach Tom Tierney has also made changes, one enforced as replacement prop Ruth O’Reilly’s career ends prematurely due to a back injury. Tierney has dropped Sophie Spence and Leah Lyons to the bench while number eight Heather O’Brien and Eimear Considine miss out on the match-day squad as Anna Caplice is promoted to the bench, Ciara Cooney comes in at lock and Kerry footballer Louise Galvin starts on the right wing.
Spence – once a certain starter – did play a vital impact role against Australia on August 9th. But problems are glaring.
“We’ve reviewed our own games and looked at areas where we can improve in both attack and defence,” said Tierney. He is correct: Ireland need improving in almost every aspect of their play.
The team’s courage cannot be questioned but, as former international Fiona Steed said in these pages last Saturday, that’s a given for any woman pulling on a green jersey going back to the first Test match against Scotland in 1993.
Now they need to show that the coaching in the IRFU’s high performance unit is up to the necessary standard. They also need to show the basics, last seen during the 2015 Six Nations, which Ireland won, have not completely disappeared.
Reputations are on the line. Plenty can still be salvaged. Nine of this squad helped Ireland reach a World Cup semi-final in 2014.
After three seasons under Tierney’s professional expertise they should be peaking over the coming days. That was the plan. Some sign of tactical advancement is needed to prove future progress of the 15-a-side game on this island can be achieved.
Ireland to win, based on reputation not form.
IRELAND: H Tyrrell; L Galvin, J Murphy, S Naoupu, A Miller; N Stapleton, N Cronin; L Peat, C Moloney, A Egan; C Cooney, ML Reilly; C Griffin; C Molloy (capt), P Fitzpatrick. Replacements: L Lyons, I van Staden, C O’Connor, S Spence, L Muldoon, K Fitzhenry, C McLaughlin.
Verdict: Ireland win.