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'The pressure is on them. We're the underdogs': Australia out to gatecrash Ireland's party

The Aussies are hoping to fly under the radar and upset the odds on the opening night of the Women’s Rugby World Cup.

TWELVE MONTHS TO the day from leading her country to Olympic gold in Rio, Shannon Parry is hoping for another successful summer in the green and gold — starting tomorrow night when Australia are gunning to gatecrash Ireland’s party.

Shannon Parry Australia captain Shannon Parry. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

The Wallaroos captain helped her side make history last August as they became the first-ever women’s Olympic rugby medallists by beating New Zealand in a thrilling sevens final at the 2016 Games.

It was a hugely significant moment for Australian women’s rugby and since returning to the 15s set-up in anticipation of this World Cup, Parry has been able to draw on the experience to create that same winning mentality among this group of players.

“It was a phenomenal experience for the Australian seven’s squad and the women’s set-up in general,” she said. “For us it was a phenomenal feat. 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 and it did definitely give it a push. For us as a squad and a group it can be little things, passing on our experience, critiquing people on the training pitch to get the benefit for the team.

“I think that’s what we really need to rely on and the other leaders that we’ve got. We have girls there with 10 or more caps and that’s big for Australian rugby so really relying on those girls to make critical right decisions at those critical times.”

Wednesday night’s opening showdown with the hosts will be Parry’s first game in the 15s format since the last World Cup three years ago, largely down to the fact the Australian Rugby Union (ARU) had concentrated all their resources on the sevens programme for Rio.

The 27-year-old has established herself as one of the most prominent players on the sevens circuit but all the focus over the last few months has been on the much-anticipated clash with Ireland.

Following on from Olympic success, the ARU has committed more resources to the women’s game and funded a three-Test series against England, New Zealand and Canada in the build-up to this tournament.

In this case, it’s probably a little misleading to read too much into those results — three defeats — on the basis that England are the defending World Cup champions and New Zealand and Canada are second and third in the world rankings.

Olympic Games 2016 Rugby Parry in action during the 2016 Olympic final against New Zealand. Source: DPA/PA Images

But what we do know is that Australia have got their eyes firmly on upsetting the odds on the opening night and are ready to take advantage of any nerves shown by the home side on what will be a huge occasion for everyone involved.

“We heard there it’s sold out,” Parry said of the game against Ireland, before shifting all the pressure away from her side and onto their opponents.

“You can’t ask for a better platform for women’s rugby. I’ve no doubt it’s going to be a hard and tough physical game but it’s going to be a great spectacle for women’s rugby.

“To play the host nation in the first game is going to be absolutely huge. The pressure is on them. The pressure is not on us. We are coming in as the underdogs so it will be interesting to see how they perform under that additional pressure because the amount of public and community from what I’ve seen how they have totally embraced the rugby is phenomenal to see.

“I think it will be one of the biggest packed houses we’ve ever seen for women’s rugby. 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. It’s going to be a really good spectacle both on and off the field.”

It’s clear that Australia, having played just five Test matches since the last World Cup, want to fly under the radar and be something of an unknown quantity in this tournament. They want to catch Ireland cold.

From the footage of their games that is available, you’d expect Wednesday’s Pool C clash to be hugely physical, particularly in the early stages when both sides look to come out of the blocks quickly.

Australia have made nine changes to their team from the one which contested their last Test, with Parry starting at openside flanker and her sevens team-mate Sharni Williams named at inside centre. There are two debutants included too with Mahalia Murphy and Trilleen Pomare set to start at 10 and 11.

Shannon Parry Parry speaking to media at UCD earlier in the week. Source: Oisin Keniry/INPHO

The challenge for the Wallaroos will be to make it all come together on the night but Parry has repeatedly insisted that they’ve enjoyed their best-ever preparation and confidence is high that they can take down the hosts.

“I think for us the initial first up win against Ireland, that would totally set our platform for this campaign and for us we’re going to aim for top four and we’re very firm on that but we need to focus on Ireland first,” Parry continued.

“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.”

On what they expect from Ireland, Parry added: ”We’ve been able to analyse a lot of stuff from the Six Nations campaign and there’s a few things coming our way before we actually play them. Our coaches have been doing a lot of hard work, a lot of late nights getting that analysis done. It’s going to be a tough tussle out there next Wednesday night.

“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.

“But we’ve had our best preparation ever, we’ve had five Test matches across that three year period and we’ve been able to blood some younger players as well as keep hold of the experienced ones.

“It will be huge.”

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