Ireland women confident ahead of World Cup in France
Ireland's women's rugby team are confident they can continue their impressive form and prove they are a force to be reckoned with at the forthcoming World Cup in France.
The 2013 Six Nations Grand Slam winners are full of belief ahead of their Pool B fixtures against New Zealand, USA and Kazakhstan.
The campaign will represent the final matches in charge for coach Philip Doyle, who announced that he will step down from his position after the tournament.
The Irish won three of their five Six Nations games this year, with France emerging as title winners.
Following an intense training programme ahead of the competition, winger Grace Davitt says she is feeling better than ever as the team attempt to better their seventh placed finish in 2010.
"I'm so excited for this one, it's definitely been the best preparation for any of the three World Cup's I've been involved in so I'm just really looking forward to getting over there and getting stuck in," she said.
The Ireland squad is full of experienced players like Davitt, but also includes rising stars such as Ashleigh Baxter of Belfast Harlequins, who is relishing the prospect of performing on the biggest stage against the world champions New Zealand.
"I don't really know what to expect but it's still super exciting for me. Everybody wants to play the best team in the world and I've had the opportunity to play them in sevens. I know this will be different but I'm looking forward to it," she said.
Playing the All Black women is a great opportunity for the Irish panel to show what they are capable of and to confirm their status as one of the most talented squads in the sport.
"It's brilliant for us to play New Zealand. It provides a chance to prove a point against the best in the world. I've never played them before so it's just a great opportunity," said Davitt.
For the Ulster girl, who works as a maintenance technician, the prospect of playing in front of thousands of fans in major stadiums against the cream of global talent is an example of how women's rugby in Ireland has progressed since she began her international career nine years ago.
"Things have progressed so much. When I started we had to pay our own way and stay in people's houses while we were training.
"The backroom staff we have in Ireland now are great. We have nutritionists, strength experts and conditioners, plus provincial skills sessions. It's brilliant to play in stadiums like the Aviva and Twickenham. It's like a dream," she said.
Davitt believes that the belief and sense of unity which permeates the squad will help them when playing some of the big guns.
"We push each other to improve all the time and get on so well with each other. Those factors, combined with the belief prevalent in the camp, mean there should be no stopping us."
Ireland will look to repeat their victories over USA and Kazakhstan in 2010 as those two countries again feature in their pool.
They insist they can stand up to the mighty New Zealand but winning two out of three would more than likely see them through to the next stage.
Davitt and Baxter both emphasised the importance of the support they will receive from the travelling Irish fans, which will include some of the local rugby teams from Dublin and Galway.
"A lot of the women's teams are going over to support us so hopefully there will be a great crowd and the Irish fans will make a lot of noise," concluded Davitt.