Women's Rugby World Cup: Ireland aiming to press home advantage

Paula Fitzpatrick and Cliodhna Moloney of Ireland
All the Pool matches will be played in Dublin with the semi-finals and final at Belfast's Kingspan Stadium

With an experienced squad and home advantage, the weight of expectation will be on Ireland's shoulders when the Women's World Cup starts on Wednesday.

Twelve of the players named by head coach Tom Tierney have played at previous tournaments and they reached the semi-finals last time out in 2014.

The Irish famously beat the-then world champions New Zealand three years ago and went on to finish fourth.

They lost to England who beat Canada in the final in Paris.

Ireland, Grand Slam winners in 2013, will face stiff competition from the world's best professional outfits.

Defending champions England, four-times winners New Zealand and 2014 runners-up Canada are hotly tipped for title success.

Getting out of their group will not be easy for the Irish who find themselves facing Australia, France and Japan.

Australia have a point to prove after coming off the back of five straight losses, and possess the physicality and drive to pull off an upset.

Ireland played two friendlies against Japan in June, and narrowly came out on the right side of the score on both encounters, but the Japanese set down a marker by showcasing their flair and pace.

France are a familiar foe, one Ireland are used to having tough encounters with in the Six Nations, and it is likely they will put in a typically tenacious performance once again.

The unique opportunity to win a World Cup on home soil is one of the pinnacles of sport. Can Ireland make it count?

Nora Stapleton
Nora Stapleton has extra responsibilities in Irish women's rugby

'Players had to buy their own shirts'

Having competed in seven Six Nations and two World Cups, Nora Stapleton is a veteran of the Ireland squad.

She has witnessed just how far the women's game has come during her seven years as an international.

"A few years before I started playing for Ireland, the girls had to buy their own jerseys, and squad members used to sleep on friends' floors when they were coming to Dublin for training sessions," says 34-year-old Stapleton.

"Everything now is taken care of, which means we have the best of everything - nutrition, strength and conditioning coaches, and a full-time head coach."

Experienced fly-half Stapleton has extra incentive to get to the final in Belfast on 26 August.

In 2013, she took up the position of Women's and Girls' Development Manager at the IRFU, and in recent months has been focusing on World Cup legacy projects.

"My role is everything from girls' mini rugby up to adult participation, and how we develop the game for all ages," add the Donegal woman.

"I also play a big part in trying to ensure that there is a clear pathway from the clubs, to the province, to the Irish team."

"My end goal is for every club in Ireland to have some form of women's team.

"Girls all over the country want to play, and my job is to give them that opportunity."

Hannah Tyrrell was presented with the Zurich Contribution to Irish Society Award in May 2017
Hannah Tyrrell was presented with the Zurich Contribution to Irish Society Award in May 2017

Tyrrell credits rugby for recovery

Winger Hannah Tyrrell has made a speedy rise through the ranks of rugby - but her journey off the pitch has been even more remarkable.

Tyrrell suffered from bulimia and mental illness from the age of 12, and has used her experiences to help others.

At this year's Rugby Players Ireland awards dinner, she was recognised for her work with the Tackle Your Feelings Campaign.

"It is about looking at the wellbeing of not just the rugby community, but the wider community," Tyrrell, 27, said.

"The main aim was to challenge the stigma around mental health.

"I struggled with an eating disorder and self-harm in the past so for me it was an opportunity to share my story in the hope that others won't go through the same struggles that I did."

Tyrrell, a former Dublin GAA player, credits her love of sport with aiding her recovery.

Former player Joy Neville is now a referee
In 2016 Joy Neville became the first woman to take charge of an All-Ireland League Division One game

Former star is tournament referee

Four years after hanging up her boots, Grand Slam winner Joy Neville is set to grace another World Cup - this time as a referee.

The woman from Limerick won 70 caps, captained her country and played in the 2006 and 2010 World Cups.

Neville says the significance of a tournament on home soil cannot be understated.

"It is massive. I think it would be fair to say this is the biggest women's World Cup to date, with four different broadcasters showing the games live, and the support for the Irish national team has been immense.

"It is a massive opportunity for developing women's rugby in Ireland. Hopefully it will increase participation, we will see the growth of clubs and more schools taking up touch rugby."

Ireland's Pool C fixtures
All matches at UCD Bowl, Dublin
Wednesday 9 AugustAustralia19:00 BST
Sunday 13 AugustJapan17:15
Thursday 17 AugustFrance 19:45

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