Ireland to put on an historic Women's World Cup
With over 10,000 tickets already sold for the knock-out stages of the Women's Rugby World Cup in Belfast, organisers have said they are expecting "the most-watched, best-attended and most socially-engaged" tournament in the sport's history ahead of tomorrow's big kick-off.
The Irish squad, featuring Ulster players Claire McLaughlin (right) and Ashleigh Baxter, will play their first game against Australia in Dublin tomorrow, but are guaranteed two games in Kingspan Stadium regardless of how they fare in a pool that also contains Japan and France.
When Ireland, as the only bidder, was awarded the tournament in 2015, IRFU CEO Phillip Browne cited the growing interest in the women's game here as reason to believe the island could stage the best tournament in the sport's history.
The sold-out signs have long since gone up at UCD, where Ireland will play their three pool games in front of crowds in excess of 3,000, and the union will be confident that a strong showing from the hosts over the next nine days will see even more fans snap up tickets for when the tournament moves north.
Never shy in embracing an international event, the Northern Ireland population has delivered as expected with the final already set to be the best attended women's sporting event in the province's history.
Ulster's Baxter, who will be playing in her second World Cup having been part of the squad that finished fourth three years ago, said: "It's really positive how quickly the tickets sold out.
"That's really positive, that people are actually very interested in coming to see the games.
"Then for the games to obviously move up into Belfast and the bigger stadium, hopefully that will get a turnout as well."
With the growing interest, World Rugby said yesterday that they are taking every step necessary to guard against any threat of match-fixing.
Having partnered with the Garda Siochana and PSNI to implement what is described as a "sophisticated integrity framework" around the event, World Rugby Chief Executive Brett Gosper believes they have done everything in their power to maintain a "level playing field".
"Corruption continues to be a threat for all sports," he said. "While there is no evidence that a problem exists in rugby, we would be naive to think it could not happen. Through this important partnership, we are protecting and supporting players and officials, in line with our continued commitment to maintain a level playing field in rugby."
Having arrived into Dublin over the weekend, teams will receive a briefing from World Rugby integrity officers.