Belfast Telegraph

Friday 26 December 2014

Ireland set for tough new Zealand test

Ready for lift-off: Paula Fitzpatrick will come into the Ireland side for the clash with world champions New Zealand
Ready for lift-off: Paula Fitzpatrick will come into the Ireland side for the clash with world champions New Zealand

The rising tide that is Ireland's women's rugby team faces arguably its stiffest test yet when they clash with New Zealand in the World Cup in France today.

The national team and the game in general has made huge strides in recent years, with Philip Doyle's charges winning the Grand Slam a year ago while also playing matches in stadia such as Twickenham and Lansdowne Road earlier this year.

But a first meeting with New Zealand in Marcoussis, Paris, will be the clearest indication yet of just how much Ireland have progressed.

The Kiwis are odds-on favourites to go all the way in this tournament and make it five World Cup crowns on the bounce.

And they laid down a marker in their opening group game when destroying Kazakhstan 79-5 and running in 13 tries in the process.

Ireland also got off to a winning start, edging out the USA 23-17 in a tight affair in their opener.

It was a significant win for Doyle's team given that the Americans are two places above Ireland in the world rankings while the result further underlined the progress Ireland have made, given that they lost 40-3 to the same opposition when they met at the World Cup four years ago.

It gave Ireland a win against a physically bigger team, something they struggled with earlier this year when facing the French and English in the Six Nations.

That was a draining encounter described as "very physical" by Fiona Coghlan but Ireland's fitness levels have improved greatly in recent years and they have made just one change from that game. Paula Fitzpatrick gets the nod to start at blindside with Siobhan Fleming named as replacement.

Scrum-half Tania Rosser's form has earned her plaudits and she will earn her 50th cap against her native country with Doyle expecting a bruising encounter.

"We have prepared for a tough test, we are focusing on how we are going to play our game and we have to play as well as we can," he said.

Not many fancy Ireland but with the three pool winners and the best runner-up advancing to the semi-finals, Ireland would keep their chances alive with a losing bonus point.

Ireland: N Briggs, A Baxter, L Cantwell, G Davitt, A Miller; N Stapleton, T Rosser; F Coghlan, G Bourke, A Egan; A Spence, ML Reilly; P Fitzpatrick, C Molloy, H O'Brien. Reps: S Lynch, F Hayes, L Guest, S Fleming, L Muldoon, J Murphy, V McGinn.

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