THE SKY’S THE LIMIT (AGUS TG4 FREISIN!)
I wonder what Niamh Horan is doing today? Donning a green jersey and cheering on Fiona Coughlan & co in a crowded pub perhaps?
Anyway…enough about her. Speaking of pubs, the smart ones around Dublin will be doing more than preparing for hoards of Leaving Cert celebraters & sorrow-drowners.
Because let’s be absolutely clear about the status of this match at the Stade Jean-Brouin in Paris this evening…for me anyway, it is the most important rugby match for an Irish team in the calendar year of 2014, and one that can only be eclipsed should we reach the final.
Pushing things a bit with that statement am I?
Although I normally try to steer away from lists as there are more than enough in the blogosphere as it is, here’s the rest of my top 5…remember, I’m ranking the match by overall significance of the occasion itself, NOT the actual entertainment value provided by the 80 minutes on the day.
5. Leinster v Glasgow, Pro12 Final - perhaps it’s odd for a list of important matches to have just one actual final as far down as 5th, but given that only half of the competition appear to take it seriously I reckon it’s a fair enough call.
4. Ireland U20s v New Zealand U20s, JWC Semifinal - this was of course a massive achievement for Mike Ruddock’s younglings back in June. But equal in stature to #WRWC2014? I think not. The JWC is a development tournament, let us not forget. All the players of course were in it to win it, but at the back of their minds they were also aspiring to greater things. For the women in Paris today, this IS the greater thing.
3. Munster v Toulon, Heineken Cup Semifinal - Yes I’m a Leinster fan but I’m not afraid to admit that Munster were involved in Ireland’s biggest provincial contest this season. They gave them a better shot than we did, but the champs were just too strong.
2. Ireland v France, Six Nations decider - I may get some push back on this one, but what clinches today’s match as more important for me is that it is a senior World Cup as opposed to a Six Nations.
And with November internationals (ie friendlies) and opening rounds of EPRC & Pro12 competitions left in the calendar year for the men, I can’t see another contest having more consequences for an Irish team.
But anyway…I reckon I’ve done enough to tell you just how important I feel the match is. My overall point - YOU NEED TO WATCH IT!
Now…how do I think it will go?
Well although I have seen every second of Ireland’s pool campaign plus our warmup in Malahide, I didn’t know a whole lot about this English set-up so I watched back their epic 13-13 draw with Canada in their final pool match.
As far as the result itself was concerned, I smelled a bit of a conspiracy theory after the Canadians deservedly levelled the scores late on. Even though the NZ Black Ferns were still to play later that day, this scoreline eliminated them so perhaps there were shades of that infamous W Germany v Austria match from 1982? (Either way…we can’t forget who did the real hard work when it came to knocking out NZ!)
Maybe it wasn’t quite England’s strongest lineup, since regular out-half Katy McLean wasn’t involved, but still the Canadians really put it up to them and may have shown us how we can make hay against them today.
When it comes to general organisation, the two squads will be extremely evenly matched. Scrums should be steady, both have strong driving lineouts in attacking situations, and in the crucial area of defence they have been outstanding in this tournament.
One area where Canada got some traction was given the smallest hint of broken play they were able to get the ball quickly out wide. We most certainly have wingers in Alison Miller and Ashleigh Baxter who are well capable of making the most of gaps in the wing channels. If Nora Stapleton can read the defence and find the right options between kicking into space and chucking it out wide, we most certainly can do damage.
Naturally the breakdown is going to be an intense battle. Claire Molloy has done sterling work along with the likes of Heather O’Brien but faced with Margaret Alphonsi & co not only will they be tested, but so will referee Amy Perrett from Australia.
And then of course we have our powerhouses in our backline…namely Lynne Cantwell and Niamh Briggs (the latter of whom has just been nominated for IRB Women’s Player of the Year). Both have been amazing in this competition to date and it is clear the squad draw inspiration from their efforts.
But opposite them England have their own talis-er-women (?) in Emily Scarratt and Danielle Waterman (who’s name plants the theme tune for “Minder” in my head for those of that generation) so just as such an occasion demands, there are potential match-winners all over the park.
I could chicken out and say this match is too close to call. But I won’t. I believe Ireland can do it, so on account of that, I’ll say we will. But it will be close.
Whatever happens, let’s get behind the girls and show them we fully believe in them. The support over in Paris has been both unbelievably abundant and vocal, and for those of us who can’t make it, the best we can do is be sure to be around a screen for the 5pm kickoff time and keep those social media messages flowing with the hashtags #WRWC2014, #COYGIG and #ThisIsWomensRugby.
Best wishes to Philip Doyle, Fiona Coughlan and all the squad. Let’s do this! JLP
KICKOFF IS 5PM IRISH TIME, MATCH IS LIVE ON TG4 & SKY SPORTS 4
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