'At the end of a World Cup, you need to sleep for about a week'

Former Irish rugby international Sarah Jane Belton reflects on her memories of the 2006 World Cup.

Sarah Jane Belton pictured at the unveiling of the eir Sport broadcast team for its coverage of Women’s Rugby World Cup 2017
Sarah Jane Belton pictured at the unveiling of the eir Sport broadcast team for its coverage of Women’s Rugby World Cup 2017
Image: James Crombie/INPHO

THE DAY HAS finally arrived for the Irish women’s rugby World Cup squad, and former international Sarah Jane Belton can identify with how they’re feeling.

Belton, who made her Irish debut in 2000, was part of a team who travelled to Canada for the 2006 World Cup, where her performances at out-half earned her a spot on the tournament’s All-Star team.

This prestigious competition is being staged in Ireland over the next few weeks, and Tom Tierney’s charges are about to embark on a physically demanding series of games over a condensed time frame.

Their opening Pool C game against Australia this evening [UCD Bowl, 7pm] will be followed by a clash against Japan on Sunday, with their group stage coming to a close against France next Thursday.

The succession of games will test the players in various ways, and although the structure of the tournament has altered slightly since 2006, Belton knows what the players are facing into.

“You’re wiped out (by the end of the World Cup),” she told The42. ”It’s hard to say which is tougher on you, the psychological draining or the physical draining because you feel both.

There’s nothing like it. At the end of a World Cup, you need to sleep for about a week and you need some serious downtime.

“The whole thing used to happen over two weeks as opposed to two-and-a-half weeks they have now. At most, you would have had three days between games and sometimes just two days recovery.

“It’s stressed that the day after the game is pure recovery and you’re fit for nothing really. You do a little debrief and some video analysis. Two days later, you’re back on your feet for a light run-out.

“The third day you get to do something a little bit heavier but then again, you’ve a game the next day, so you can’t go too heavy.”

Ireland have been preparing for this kind of tournament atmosphere since last year. They played three November Internationals against Canada, and more recently, they took on fellow Pool C opponents Japan in two uncapped trial games.

Belton highlights the importance of games like these for bringing the players up to the pitch of a World Cup environment.

“Getting that hard and fast match experience back-to-back (is essential). It’s the turning around and getting ready for a new opposition, you have to have a new game plan, you have to know these new players — where they’re strong, where they’re weak.

A big part of it is to put the last game behind you, win, lose or draw. Draw a line, take the positives and learn what you need to learn from it before moving on to the next opposition.”

This World Cup on home soil has been at the forefront of media coverage in the months leading up to the tournament. Both eir Sport and RTÉ are providing live broadcasts of the matches, with Belton forming part of the eir Sport commentary team.

Sarah Jane Belton gets the ball away under pressure Sarah Jane Belton in action for Ireland during 2008. Source: Lorraine O'Sullivan/INPHO

The 2006 World Cup however, was a different experience and general interest was in far shorter supply.

Belton praises the players whose achievements on the pitch has gradually brought their game into the public consciousness over the years.

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“It was a very different ball game back in 2006. The World Cup was quite (far) away in Canada and it wasn’t really on the radar. At the time, Irish women’s rugby wasn’t really on the radar either. All of the media attention would have been on the men’s game.

I think what the girls have done over the last number of years with winning the Six Nations, turning over New Zealand and qualifying for the semi-finals of the World Cup has really brought media interest and emphasis to the Irish team.

“It’s really brought public opinion along and it snowballs nicely into a situation now whereby there’s not too many people that don’t at least know that the World Cup is happening and that it’s happening on home soil.

“It gives exposure so that we can really boost numbers in the game.”

Sarah Jane Belton will form part of eir Sport’s broadcast team covering the World Cup. eir Sport will show every Women’s Rugby World Cup Game, including all Irish games and the final.

Ireland’s pool games in the UCD Bowl: Dublin against Australia on 9 August, Japan on 13 August and France on 17 August – all live on eir Sport.

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