Niamh Briggs ruled out of Women’s Rugby World Cup
Paula Fitzpatrick expected to take charge of side after fullback ruled out with Achilles injury
Ireland captain Niamh Briggs has been ruled out of the WRWC with an achilles injury. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho
Just eight days before the World Cup on home soil, Ireland are forced to stare into a gaping leadership void.
The loss of Niamh Briggs to an Achilles tendon injury – think Paul O’Connell being carted off the Millennium surface in 2015 – strips the host nation of their primary points gatherer, their undisputed leader and, perhaps most damaging of all, a walloping boot capable of sending incoming Australian and French packs back from whence they came.
It also denies Briggs the chance to play in her third World Cup.
The worst possible news really, but Ireland coach Tom Tierney was hardly prepared for this very situation.
Briggs, the 32-year-old Garda, has struggled with knee then hamstring injuries since leading Ireland to an unexpected Six Nations title two years ago.
The former Waterford footballer missed large parts of 2016 with infected knees, initially grazed on Astroturf pitches, before the hamstrings curtailed this season to one appearance against the Black Ferns last November.
Paula Fitzpatrick, the former Toulouse flanker who led Ireland through a difficult yet respectable spring when the all-conquering English ruthlessly snatched the championship on the final weekend at Donnybrook, is expected to be named the new Ireland captain.
There are other options to pick up where Briggs has been forced to stand down. Claire Molloy always leads by endeavour, Maz Reilly should guarantee lineout possession and Sophie Spence has recovered from sustained concussion problems while the return of Sene Naoupu and Ali Miller, fresh off the Sevens circuit, ensures a razor-sharp attacking threat out wide.
But the source of Miller’s great counter-attacking try that proved so crucial in Ireland beating New Zealand at the 2014 World Cup in Marcoussis is now lost. It was the vision and place-kicking of Briggs that did so much to ensure Fiona Coghlan’s team reached the semi-final three years ago.
Details are sparse but Briggs sustained the injury before last weekend’s Fota Island pre-tournament camp while out running alone.
Ireland are not doing any media before re-gathering in UCD on Saturday so all Tierney would reveal about the loss of his captain came via an IRFU release.
“Both the players and management are really disappointed for Niamh as everyone has seen the incredible work and effort she’s put in over the last number of months in an attempt to get herself right for this tournament.
“For her to have recovered well from her hamstring injury and then suffer a new injury is really unfortunate for her, as everyone knows how much she was looking forward to leading the team in the World Cup.”
Louise Galvin, the talented Kerry footballer and basketballer, who like many others with GAA roots was enticed into switching codes to join the professional Sevens programme, has been added to the 28-woman squad.
“I don’t think there should be any excuses for us,” said Briggs last week. “I think we need to go out and take ownership and responsibility, and be accountable for our performances.
“There is a good core of us who have played in the last couple of World Cups together, so it’s that experience that we can bring as a group rather than one individual player.”
Problem is one individual player was more valuable than the rest.
Ireland open the tournament against Australia in the UCD Bowl on Wednesday, August 9th at 7pm.
Tickets for all pool games are sold out but Ireland’s matches will be broadcast live on Eir Sport, RTÉ and RTÉ Radio.
IRELAND (Squad): Ashleigh Baxter (Cooke/Ulster), Anna Caplice (UL Bohemian/Munster), Ciara Cooney (Railway Union/Leinster), Ailis Egan (Old Belvedere/Leinster), Paula Fitzpatrick (St Mary’s College RFC/Leinster), Ciara Griffin (UL Bohemian/Munster), Leah Lyons (Highfield/Munster), Claire Molloy (Bristol/Connacht), Cliodhna Moloney (Railway Union/Leinster), Heather O’Brien (Highfield/Munster), Ciara O’Connor (Galwegians/Connacht), Ruth O’Reilly (Galwegians/Connacht), Lindsay Peat (Railway Union/Leinster), Marie-Louise Reilly (Old Belvedere/Leinster), Sophie Spence (Old Belvedere/Leinster), Louise Galvin (UL Bohs/Munster), Eimear Considine (UL Bohemian/Munster), Mairead Coyne (Galwegians/Connacht), Nicole Cronin (UL Bohemian/Munster), Jeamie Deacon (Blackrock College RFC/Leinster), Katie Fitzhenry (Blackrock College RFC/Leinster), Claire McLaughlin (Cooke/Ulster), Alison Miller (Old Belvedere/Connacht), Larissa Muldoon (Railway Union), Jenny Murphy (Old Belvedere/Leinster), Sene Naoupu (Harlequins FC), Nora Stapleton (Old Belvedere/Leinster), Hannah Tyrrell (Old Belvedere/Leinster).