Saturday, August 09, 2014

IRELAND-40 KAZAKHSTAN-5

IRL v KAZ

#THISISWOMENSRUGBY

Two articles have appeared in the ruggersphere over the past couple of days that have caused quite a stir. 

I have responded to both in different ways, but if you don’t mind, I won’t link to them here…I dealt with Niamh Horan’s on the HoR Facebook page and with Malachy Clerkin’s by way of a comment under the article itself.  You’ll just have to google them if you haven’t read them yet.

But what I still don’t get is this…what exactly is the problem with this topic?  My only personal qualm over my covering the Women’s Rugby World Cup was that I didn’t want to look like I was trying to appear like some kind of lifelong fan of the women’s game - maybe I’m only really getting into it since the Grand Slam but at least I’m owning up to it. 

Still…I reckoned that surely one of the reasons this tournament is being held at the beginning of August is to maximise its exposure among those who don’t usually get to follow.  So I got myself to Ireland’s final warm-up match in Malahide and although I can’t make it to Paris, I have followed every second of our pool matches to date (despite awkward kickoff times I might add) with a view to harpin on them here in the same way I have done for Leinster & Ireland men’s rugby since 2008.

I guess my point is that once you’re a lover of the game to begin with, I can’t for the life of me see why there should be any problem covering our national team especially when we’re doing so well?  Sure, I see calls everywhere for more coverage of women’s rugby (and indeed women’s sport in general) but it’s not as though people are insisting that RTE send a full outside broadcast unit the next time Old Belvedere play UL Bohs in the Women’s AIL.  Just guaranteed live coverage of the test matches would be fine for now as far as I’m concerned.

And It’s not even merely about the telly…Canterbury today have unveiled their new training gear for the men’s Irish team while our #WRWC2014 campaign out in France has been fought with a generic green jersey with seemingly no official supplier.  Maybe that had to do with contracts, but surely they can be renegotiated, and I bet you anything that if manufacturers knew we were going to march into the semifinals they would have been clambering for the girls to get their kit on.  (sorry if I strayed towards a Horan-esque innuendo there but it felt right)

Hang on - this is meant to be a writeup of the Kazakhstan game, isn’t it?  Again, my apologies.  Maybe I’m as bad as the rest of them when it comes to straying off the actual topic?

Thankfully come full time we had gotten the job done comfortably enough.  The “job” in question was, in my eyes anyway, to get the win that would put us in the semifinals and rest as many of the “senior” squad as we possibly could in the process.

Because the thing is…as the players are amateur, if they are to play five games each at this tournament they will have to do so with just three rest days between each on and in rugby union for either gender and at any level, that is no easy ask.

Going by the scoreline around the 30 minute mark, however, it seemed that defeating the Kazakhstan Nomads wasn’t going to be an easy ask either.  But before I started to worry about how our lead was “only” 7-5 with halftime approaching, I was reminded of the other times I have watched Ireland play in the past few weeks.  Wales, USA and New Zealand were all defeated despite our trailing in and around the end of the first quarter.

When you see the same thing four matches in a row, it tells me that it’s up to you to trust in the girls.  They seem to have an uncanny ability to both persevere in the original strategy while also tweaking it enough to get around the obstacles laid down by the opposition.

It actually looked as though a cricket score may be on the cards when Sharon Lynch went over after just 5 minutes after a good combination with Laura Guest and Lynne Cantwell.

But then right from the restart and for the next half an hour or so we seemed to be affected by the “knockon gremlins” and fair play to our opposition, with a strong pack and quality in their backline like skipper Anna Yakovleva they were able inflict quite a bit of punishment for our errors and eventually they were rewarded with a try on 22 minutes which left the score at a precarious-looking 7-5 in our favour.

Luckily for us we didn’t include Lynne “Wonder Woman” Cantwell in our plans to rest players from the starting lineup as once again she was involved in the move which got us on the front foot in order for Tania Rosser, normally scrum half but starting at 10 on this occasion, to jink her way through the scrambling defence for try number 2.

And so it was a much healthier-looking 14-5 to Ireland going into the break and again full credit to Kazakhstan for that scoreline staying the same deep into the second half…in fact, the margin would have gotten smaller were it not for a super try-saving tackle from full-back Jackie Shiels.  She had a great game against Wales in July and kicked 5 great goals on this occasion…that she can’t crack a start shows what amazing depth we have at our disposal.

Still…when a team of mostly second-choice players is put together while others are asked to play different positions, key combinations were always going to suffer and it wasn’t until we started to introduce our front liners that we finally began to turn the screw.  Plus, of course the short turnaround was bound to affect our opposition as much as it did our squad.

In the final quarter the Kazakh defence began to crack and eventually a penalty try opened up some mini floodgates with the yellow card that came with it meaning we could add a few more before the end courtesy of Lynch again, Siobhan Fleming (amazing run from her own half after lightning quick ball movement along the backs) and finally Vikki McGinn, who was only called up after an injury to Niamh Kavanagh in Malahide….further evidence of the quality at coach Doyle’s disposal.

So our place in the final four was secured and later on England’s draw with Canada meant that not only were they to be our semifinal opponents, but also the reinging champion Black Ferns were eliminated.

We may have fallen short to the strong England side at Twickenham in the Six Nations earlier this year, but Wednesday’s match will be on neutral ground and I will say no different to what I did before we played New Zealand…we most definitely have what it takes to get a result.

In the meantime, it’s up to us as Irish fans who can’t join the unbelievable support in Paris to get ourselves into a position to watch the match as it happens, and if on social media, make full use of the hashtags #WRWC2014, #COYGIG plus of course #ThisIsWomensRugby.

Pay no mind to the rugby fans who don’t get it.  If they eventually come around, let’s hand them a green flag and get them cheering along with us.  If they don’t, it’s their loss isn’t it. JLP

published Monday, August 11, 2014

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