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'It focuses the mind, there’s no easy lead-in': Ireland relishing defining World Cup opener against Australia

Captain Niamh Briggs is leading a ‘no excuses’ attitude as Ireland embrace the challenges ahead.

THERE WAS A brief droll moment in the minutes that followed Tom Tierney’s WRWC squad announcement yesterday.

Seated in front of a cinema screen within UCD’s student centre, the head coach was asked about the social media restrictions that may be applied to his squad.

The ex-Ireland international could feel the pressure from one place and one place only, his captain, turning right to bore in with a smiling expression that seemed to say: ‘ yeah, Tom tell us about the social media restrictions!’

Tom Tierney and Niamh Briggs Source: Bryan Keane/INPHO

There will be a few, but the coaching and management have been busy making sure the players lay down all the hard work ahead of the home tournament. Next weekend, they will regroup in Fota Island to start icing the cake with all those extra little details.

Larger tournaments can often present an opportunity to build up a rhythm while putting points on the board. In a 12-team, three-pool, two-and-a-half-week tournament like the Women’s Rugby World Cup, there is precious little wiggle room and nothing short of all-guns-blazing will be acceptable on 9 August; opening night when Australia are the opposition in the UCD Bowl.

“It’ll be a really tough International,” Tierney says, sizing up the team ranked sixth in the world, one place behind his own.

We’re delighted to have it first-game up because it focuses the mind. There’s no easy lead-in to this tournament. We have to hit the ground running straight away which is very good from a prep point of view.

“We’re under no illusions, it’s going to be very difficult, but we’re very pleased about how we’ve prepared. The players are in the best shape of their lives from an S&C perspective, rugby-wise we’ve left no stone unturned and we’re just waiting for the first game now. It’s a brilliant way to start.”

The tournament ahead is the culminating point of Tierney’s work in this role since taking over from Philip Doyle after Ireland’s historic 2014 World Cup displays. However, with such precious little preparation time between matches next month, he is pleased to be able to lean on a player-driven environment pushed on by athletes with a wealth of experience.

12 of the squad featured in the 2014 edition in Marcoussis, while Nora Stapleton, Marie Louise Reilly and Briggs will be playing their third World Cup campaign.

Niamh Briggs Source: Bryan Keane/INPHO

“That makes me sound very old,” contends Briggs with a smile, “but I’m not the only one. 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.

“We’ve spoken about it already in terms of the recovery period between each game being hugely important, because when you get to a stage like a World Cup then all the hard work has been done and everyone has prepared as best as they can, and it’s just how you manage yourself in between it.

“I’ve been very fortunate to have been involved in such a group that has been around for quite a bit and a really good core group of players that any of the girls can go to in terms of experiences and can share that out, so it has been brilliant, it takes a weight off.”

Tom Tierney Source: Bryan Keane/INPHO

Tierney adds: ”we’ve been working closely with those girls because they have plenty of experience in relation to (WRWC 2014) and through their own experiences, how things went right for them and how we might do a few things a small bit differently.

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“We are working closely with the older players who have the experience and we are going to put a plan in place so we are preparing properly for the Australia game and that’s the only focus on our mind.

“At the end of the day the Australian game will come and go and we have to get ready for the Japan game. It’s about monitoring that. It’s about having a real good structure in place, being very professional in how we deliver it to the players from a management perspective but also the players taking ownership of their own bodies, pre-game, during game and post game, so that we can prepare properly. It is only a three-day turnaround.

“There is going to be a lot of emotion and nerves leading into that first game and it’s about making sure that we look after that over the course of the three pool games and the two knock-out games.”

It’s her experience of 2014, and Ireland’s inability to re-hit the heights of the win over New Zealand when it came to the knock-out rounds, that has caused Briggs to touch on the importance of managing those nerves, those bubbling emotions, through a campaign. A win over Australia would be a giant stride in the right direction, but the tell-tale signs of battle will still be visible when it’s time to tackle Japan.

“It can draining at times if you’re too high or too low, and it can take away from what you’re trying to do away from the pitch and how we train a couple of days before the games and how we manage the recovery time.

Niamh Briggs Briggs in action against the USA in 2010. Source: Andrew Fosker

“So I definitely think that’s important and that you learn from it. In 2010, playing in England, I wasn’t playing rugby for very long and probably had a shocker in terms of my kicking and it was very difficult then to get myself into that tournament. I learned hugely from that then in 2014. So I’ll take all the learnings that I got from 2014, but this is a new tournament and a new experience for us.”

Briggs hopes to end her lengthy period on the sidelines after Ireland go into camp in Fota and face Spain in their final non-capped World Cup warm-up next week. She’s happy her hamstring injury has healed fully, but is looking forward to getting a hit-out to test herself, and put all that experience to work and keep ensuring this squad carry their ‘no excuses’ attitude to UCD and, hopefully, for the most crucial fixtures in Kingspan Stadium.

“We’ve got to be accountable for our own performances, and I think that’s really important. We’ve a responsibility on our own shoulders now with a squad of 28 to be able to do ourselves justice, but also the girls who didn’t make it. That’s really, really important.

“We’ve pushed really hard at training. We’ve pushed each other really, really hard at training, and the 28 that’s (been) picked is probably the strongest that we’ve had in terms of strength in depth at a World Cup…

“I don’t think there should be any excuses for us. I think we need to go out and take ownership and responsibility, and be accountable for our performances.”

They’re not doing it for the ‘Gram.

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Sean Farrell

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