wrwc 2017

Talking over as Ireland Women prepare to take hold of jersey and Australia

This week has been anything but normal for Claire Molloy, but she knows the drill from here on.

Sean Farrell reports from UCD

IN THE HOURS before a big Test match, nothing calms the nerves quite like distraction.

That’s what prompts the elite in sport to live in the one-thing-at-a-time headspace. Everything is already geared around what happens in the UCD Bowl tomorrow evening at 7pm, the trick is to focus on each separate part of the process before that comes around.

For Claire Molloy, the past week has been something of a whirlwind as she is placed front and centre of all the sideshows a home World Cup can provide. From Sunday’s launch, to an opening ceremony for players and a meeting with the Taoiseach, the build-up to this fixture is unlike anything she has experienced before. But tonight Molloy and her team can nestle into tried and trusted habits, the welcome distractions.

Claire Molloy Dan Sheridan / INPHO Dan Sheridan / INPHO / INPHO

“The jersey presentation is always a very special occasion,” Molloy said after Tom Tierney unveiled his first team selection of the tournament.

“I’ve been lucky to be there for quite a few and it’s always special seeing girls get their first shirt. Nicole Cronin (replacement scrum-half) will be getting her first green shirt and that’s special.

“For some girls it will be their first World Cup shirt, so that’s special. One of the most important things in our buildup and the night before a game that jersey presentation is one of the things I most look forward to.”

Niamh Briggs, who Molloy is replacing at captain, won’t be far away from the squad in their preparations and it would seem sensible if the injured fullback has a part to play in handing out the kit this evening.

Eimear Considine looks to be the direct beneficiary of Briggs’ absence as she lines up on the right wing with Hannah Tyrell shifting to fullback.

Molloy will walk into her third World Cup with former wing Ashleigh Baxter and Heather O’Brien alongside her in the back row. Ahead of them is perhaps the big surprise selection in Tierney’s starting line-up. 2015 World Rugby player of the year nominee Sophie Spence is among the replacements with Paula Fitzpatrick joining Marie Louise Reilly in the second row.

The head coach is clearly looking to save some of Spence’s powerful ball-carrying for some impact in the second half, though he wouldn’t quite outline it in those terms on the eve of kick-off.

“We’re very pleased with how all the players have gone. It’s a five-game tournament and we feel we’ve a good balance of who’s starting and who’s coming off the bench. Every single one of the 28 have been putting in the hard yards and everyone’s been putting their hand up.”

He added:  ”Our thinking is we’re looking at the starting players to do a really good job. They have been doing it in training and the matches, so we just feel it’s the right way to go for the first game.”

The importance of the opening fixture is hard to downplay. In a tournament where only the pool winner is guaranteed to advance to the semi-finals, a loss is as good as a knock-out. Against Australia, Ireland can set the tone for how their tournament will go.

Claire Molloy Dan Sheridan / INPHO Dan Sheridan / INPHO / INPHO

Ahead of today’s captain’s run in UCD,  Molloy and her squad began with a bit of deep breathing rather than just haring into drills. A reminder that this is the moment they’ve been working towards.

“We just got our plays together, our structures. We had some conditions to cope with, so we’re well prepared tomorrow for a lovely bit of rain.

“I think we’re just excited to get involved. This is the game we’ve been waiting almost three years to play, so a nice deep breath in before we start the session to settle ourselves, focus and get a good session out of it.”

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