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Dublin: 7°C Sunday 18 April 2021

Ireland Women feeling 'quietly confident' ahead of final Test match against New Zealand

Ireland are hoping to go out of the November Series on a high.

Ireland Women have a tough assignment against New Zealand this weekend.
Ireland Women have a tough assignment against New Zealand this weekend.
Image: Donall Farmer/INPHO

THE IRELAND WOMEN’S rugby team are harnessing a quiet confidence in the final days before facing New Zealand in their last Test outing of the month. Tom Tierney’s side go into this clash with 10 changes in personnel to the side who suffered a 48-7 defeat to Canada last week and will be looking to end the series on a positive note.

Ireland recorded a famous win over the Black Ferns in the 2014 World Cup to bring their rivals’ run of dominance to an end. And while Tierney says another scalp over New Zealand is far from assured, his charges are well primed for the challenge.

“Deep down we’re quietly confident” he told The42. “Once we get ourselves into the game and we’re competitive, I think we’ll warm to the challenge. It’s going to be a very difficult challenge, it’s most definitely doable but we have to get everything right, that’s the challenge but the girls are looking forward to it.

Niamh Briggs tackled by Selica Winiata Niamh Briggs in possession against New Zealand in 2014. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

“It’s a special occasion, whether it’s men’s, women’s, U20s or whatever it is, if you’re playing New Zealand, they’re the standard bearers.”

This inaugural November Series has allowed Tierney to experiment with his squad and every player has been afforded some game time over the first two fixtures against England and Canada. The team that has been named for the game this Sunday will be looking to profit from that experience and Tierney says they’re closing in on a settled starting 15.

“We’re trying to give everyone an opportunity against very good opposition so we’d get a truer reflection. We were always going to do that in the first two games and then whoever we felt was right for a one-off against New Zealand is how we’ve went about it. The girls that are there are (picked) on merit, they’re training very well and like any team that plays against any New Zealand team, it’s very exciting, so we just have to do our job and make sure we don’t let the occasion get to us.”

Niamh Briggs celebrates after the game Irish captain Niamh Briggs. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Among those starting this weekend is resident captain Niamh Briggs, who spent the last few weeks nursing a hamstring injury. The Ireland head coach reported that her return to full fitness was conducted with the utmost caution to avoid taking any unnecessary risks.

“It’s just a case of making sure that it’s 100%. We weren’t really earmarking any match, it was just a case of when we were happy with her and when we felt that she was ready to go that we were going to bring her back. While it’s great to have her back, we have to have her back the right way as opposed to bringing her back too early because that’s not the point of these games. Forcing these players back — you might take a chance in a World Cup final but not in a November Series.”

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He added that the enforced absence has been a ‘learning’ process for the experienced full-back, who will collect her 57th cap this weekend.

“She would never have missed many matches before so she had to deal with that and she dealt with it brilliantly. She was a captain on the sideline as well and that’s very important because that’s what could happen in a World Cup where you’ll have 30 players and anyone could fall over for any reason.”

Tom Tierney and Niamh Briggs at the game Tom Tierney and Niamh Briggs look on as Canada play New Zealand in Donnybrook. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

New Zealand defeated Canada during the week 20-10 in Donnybrook, a game which Tierney described as “two very physical teams going at it.” He stressed that games against teams of New Zealand’s standard is the most accurate to gauge Ireland’s progress heading into 2017.

“They have so much physicality but they have flair as well. Their half-backs are as good as anything that I’ve seen, so they’re going to be very difficult to break down. That’s hopefully a strategy that we’ve banked away over the last few days and we’ll hopefully be able to employ that on the defensive side of things. Then again, you’re looking at some very big ball carriers where we would not be able to match them physically. We have to think our way differently around the field and that’s the challenge for us, because we can’t meet them in trench warfare all the time.

“We have to be as smart as we can so that we can get ourselves into the game on both sides of the ball so that we have a competitive advantage.”

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