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'I think Irish people in general like to be underdogs so it's not a bad position to be in'

Ireland head into tonight’s Grand Slam decider with the odds stacked against them but that’s not deterring Tom Tierney’s side.

Image: Camerasport/Ian Cook/INPHO

A GRAND SLAM decider by name, but Ireland are under no illusions of the size of the task awaiting them as they look to stop a formidable England outfit from claiming the championship in Dublin.

It’s winner-takes-all at a sold-out Donnybrook this evening [KO 8pm, RTE 2] as Ireland and England go head-to-head in what promises to be a thrilling finale to this year’s Women’s Six Nations.

Tom Tierney’s Ireland go into the game as the clear underdogs despite holding home advantage with England, as the only professional outfit in the competition, steamrolling all that has been put before them so far.

Tierney and his players are fully aware of what they’ll be up against later and acknowledge a fast start is essential if they are to remain competitive for the 80 minutes.

“It’s an absolutely huge task. It’s going to be a massive challenge, the biggest one we’ve had so far,” the head coach admitted.

“They’re pretty much at full strength, their player pool is second to none and they can pick and choose who they want. It’s a huge challenge for us but it’s one we’re looking for at this stage of our development and to have a Grand Slam as well to play for just adds the spice.

“If we are to win we have to get a lot of things right on Friday night. We have to have a physicality and an intensity to everything we do and if we do that I think it’s going to be a close game.

“With it being Friday night, St Patrick’s Day, Ireland v England, all of those outside factors then have an opportunity to mean something but the key for us is to get our performance right. If we don’t get that, all of those outside factors will mean nothing and have no effect.”

Tom Tierney Ireland coach Tom Tierney. Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

Narrow victories over Scotland, Italy, France and Wales have put Ireland in this position and despite disruptions to selection throughout the campaign, the team have made improvements week-on-week.

It’s probably fair to say we haven’t seen the best of Tierney’s charges yet, and when you consider they sit with four wins from four ahead of a Grand Slam decider, it’s not a bad place to be.

“I think you have to believe in yourself that you have the capabilities to win it,” captain Paula Fitzpatrick says. “Otherwise what is the point in showing up?

“It’s less about the outcome and more about how you go about getting that victory. It is about little things, getting a good start, getting that psychological advantage, going in with the right mindset, bringing the physicality so that the little things we need to do fall into place.

“If they are allowed get on the front foot there is no telling what they can do and they are a very good side going forward. So it is about stopping that, cutting down their threats.”

With the Ireland U20s facing England at 6pm, a large crowd is expected at Donnybrook for a mouthwatering double-header under the lights.

It will be a huge occasion for Fitzpatrick and her team-mates and while they’re excited to get out there in-front of the home fans, their focus remains on producing a performance which will keep them in the contest for as long as possible.

Given England’s power and dominance at this level, do they need to conjure the perfect game to pull off an unlikely victory?

Paula Fitzpatrick Paula Fitzpatrick. Source: Colm O'Neill/INPHO

“I don’t think there is any such thing as the perfect game,” the number eight says. “I think may cup finals have been won without the perfect game so no I don’t think we need to be perfect but we need to be very, very, very close and we need to stop the English from being perfect as well.

“It will be more about mindset, winning the little battles, the 50/50s and hope that can keep us in the game until the finish.

“I think Irish people in general like to be underdogs so it’s not a bad position to be in. But I don’t think we are way off by any stretch of the imagination. Back in November we lost to them by two points so it’s not a huge rift between the side and I think bringing them to Donnybrook, Paddy’s night, a huge crowd, that will hopefully give us an advantage as well.”

Ireland Women

15. Kim Flood
14. Hannah Tyrrell
13. Jenny Murphy
12. Sene Naoupu
11. Alison Miller
10. Nora Stapleton
9. Larissa Muldoon

1. Lindsay Peat
2. Leah Lyons
3. Ailis Egan
4. Sophie Spence
5. Marie-Louise Reilly
6. Ciara Griffin
7. Claire Molloy
8. Paula Fitzpatrick (c)

Replacements:

16. Ciara O’Connor
17. Ilse Van Staden
18. Ruth O’Reilly
19. Ciara Cooney
20. Nichola Fryday
21. Mary Healy
22. Nikki Caughey
23. Mairead Coyne

England Women

15. Danielle Waterman
14. Amy Wilson Hardy
13. Emily Scarratt
12. Amber Reed
11. Kay Wilson
10. Emily Scott
9. La Toya Mason

1. Rochelle Clark
2. Amy Cokayne
3. Justine Lucas
4. Tamara Taylor
5. Harriet Millar-Mills
6. Alex Matthews
7. Marlie Packer
8. Sarah Hunter (c)

Replacements:

16. Vicky Fleetwood
17. Vickii Cornborough
18. Laura Keates
19. Poppy Cleall
20. Izzy Noel-Smith
21. Bianca Blackburn
22. Rachael Burford
23. Lydia Thompson

Subscribe to The42 Rugby Show podcast here:

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‘It’s a cup final, it’s winner takes all’: Ireland primed for Grand Slam decider against England

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