Ryan Bailey reports from UCD
ONE BOX TICKED, Ireland face into their second assignment of this World Cup focused on executing the next phase of a masterplan designed to give them every chance of achieving the ultimate.
Just three days have passed since that bruising, energy-sapping victory over Australia, but already Tom Tierney’s squad are refreshed, re-engerised and focused on the next job in hand.
As soon as the players got into the Belfield Bowl dressing room on Wednesday evening, the recovery process began and the squad entered into that three-day match prep cycle again: review, recover and preview.
The sessions in the gym and on the training paddock, including this afternoon’s captain’s run, have been ‘sharp’, according to Tierney, and a meticulous plan three years in the making is coming together as the campaign rumbles on.
The head coach has made seven changes in personnel for Sunday’s Pool C clash against Japan with the resource pool Tierney and the IRFU’s director of women’s rugby, Anthony Eddy, have worked hard to build up in anticipation of this tournament coming to the fore.
Scrum-half Nicole Cronin will make her debut tomorrow evening while Maired Coyne, Katie Fitzhenry, Ciara O’Connor, Ciara Cooney, Sophie Spence and Ciara Griffin have all been drafted in as part of a pre-planned shake-up.
“We’ve made a few changes, it’s a squad of 28,” Tierney said at this afternoon’s press conference. “It’s the second game of the tournament, recovery has gone very, very well.
“We had a good review and preview after the Australia game and we’re really looking forward to Japan tomorrow, which is a different challenge for us. Everyone is in great health and raring to go.
“There is a plan in place before this World Cup and we need to make sure everyone is up to speed on everything from a playing perspective and we’re very, very pleased that the girls going out tomorrow will do a job. We’re not losing the run of ourselves or looking too far ahead. We’re conscious we’re going one game at a day and we’re taking no chances against Japan.
“The girls trained well again today and they’re in great shape. We’ve got 28 players here who are all of international quality, which is a great testament to the plan we put in place three years ago.”
While the threat a youthful and dangerous Japanese outfit will pose cannot be underestimated, Ireland shouldn’t encounter too many problems in front of what will be another capacity crowd in Belfield.
The host nation, even when you consider the changes, will possess far too much physicality, particularly up front, for Japan and their dominance at the breakdown and set-piece should give the backline quick ball and space to cause damage.
All three of Ireland’s tries against Australia came courtesy of hard yards gained by the forwards and Tierney will be keen for his backline to click ahead of a what’s set to be a pool decider against France next Thursday.
But Tierney isn’t looking too far ahead, as per the plan, and was quick to downplay the importance of his side picking up a bonus point tomorrow, instead reiterating the need to concentrate on earning the four points first.
He added: “We don’t go too far ahead looking at anything, it’s about winning a game first and in a tournament like this it’s about getting the wins and everything else will fall into place.
“We’re very, very confident if we can impose our game on the Japanese early we’ll give ourselves opportunities to put points on the board but it’s all about winning. I’d make no apologies about that, especially in a tournament like this; it’s just about getting the wins and moving on.
“Whatever about their result against France [Japan were beaten 72-14 on matchday one], they posed a huge challenge to us, especially at the breakdown, in the couple of games we played earlier in the summer.”
Those two trial fixtures against Japan in June served as part of Ireland’s tournament preparations but also offered Tierney and the management a glimpse of what the opposition will bring to the occasion on Sunday.
The atmosphere come 5.15pm tomorrow will be a lot different inside the Belfield Bowl than it was for those behind-closed-doors games, and Tierney acknowledges it will be another big day for his side, particularly debutant Cronin.
“Nicole is a very, very good player and has earned the right to be here in the 28-player squad,” he said of the 24-year-old.
“We’ve a lot of confidence in her and she’ll go well tomorrow as we’ve gone through a lot of things in the last few days and the girls are in good shape.
“We’re really looking forward to it and it’s going to be a great opportunity not only for Nicole but for all of us because we’re getting the opportunity to play in a World Cup at home again, the second game in front of a full crowd at the UCD Bowl.
“She’ll boss the forwards around and she’ll get the pace of the game up and running. It’s a huge day for her but she’ll go well.”
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