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Sophie Spence eagerly, nervelessly embracing countdown to World Cup

Bring it.

Image: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

WE’RE AT #7DAYS in a countdown anyone who knows Sophie Spence’s Instagram account will be more than familiar with.

The players in the squad WhatsApp group have long spoken with a mix of tension and giddiness when a time-frame was brought up: one year to go, 100 days, 50 days…

However, Spence, who now runs her own academy “for girls of all abilities”, has been making sure to keep the timer nice and visible since the numbers began moving into smaller nerve-shaking digits.

The tick-tock approach is not for everyone, some will prepare to keep their head down and steer clear of worry until the tournament is under way. But Spence enjoys the constant reminder to give herself and the wider public aware of what’s coming and what progress ought to look like.

“It’s about creating a bit of exposure about the event, but also: ‘if there’s 14 days left then what can I put into those final days?” Spence explains after helping Lucozade Sport launch their made to move campaign last week.

‘Day-by-day what am I going to contribute to the team and myself as an individual to perform?”

“Everyone’s different. I like to be aware of how long I’ve got. For some people it might not be exactly what they want in their face, but everyone does know.”

Sophie Spence celebrates at the final whistle Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

Spence’s importance to Ireland has grown steadily since she pulled on the green jersey in 2012.. Claiming netball as her primary sport before being asked to play rugby while studying in Newcastle, former Ireland coach Philip Doyle spotted that her mother Myrtle hailed from Lisburn and duly snapped up Spence’s talents for the Exiles system.

“Everyone is Irish on my Mam’s side and I would travel back and forward on school holidays, Belfast was like a second home for me,” Spence told The42 in April, “Ireland was always a place I thought about moving over to and I then got that opportunity through rugby.

After two years playing for Ireland but living back in Newcastle, I took the plunge to drop everything and move over here full time. It was a risk as I left my job, home and Mam but it was something I wanted to do to take my game to the next level.”

That she did. Spence moved to set up shop in Ireland after the Grand Slam success in 2013. The following August, she helped Ireland to the historic win over the Black Ferns. August after that, with another Six Nations medal in her pocket, Spence was among three players short-listed for the World Rugby Women’s Player of the Year.

Sophie Spence before the game Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

It doesn’t take long watching Spence in action to see why. From second row, she tirelessly pops up in search of carrying work. Her explosive power and brilliant leg drive make her a nightmare for tacklers hoping to claim gain-line successes.

Putting the 30-year-old in the best possible position to do damage, the best frame of mind and body to carry Ireland forward will be important to the host’s chances in this tournament.

Yet while Spence religiously counts the days to kick-off, she doesn’t hold any superstitions around game-day prep. Just a bit of music in her own ears and a reminder of her personal targets while new captain Claire Molloy DJs for the rest of the group.

“I don’t have something specific that I need to do. In the changing rooms I’d listen to my own music and Molloy normally puts the music on for everyone else.

“I’d listen to my own tunes, but it’s not a specific playlist, it’s something that just gets me in the mood and refocuses me at that time. I’m not a person who has to put my left shoe on before my right or anything like that.

“What’s important for me is: I pick three things I want to work on in that game. Those three things I might write them down on my hand and that’s what I’m going to focus on the game and bring into it.”

Roll on 9 August.

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Sean Farrell

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