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Ireland facing a World of questions as Cup quest ends with a whimper

 

By Jonathan Bradley

After Ireland lost a third consecutive match at their own World Cup on Saturday, a tournament that once promised so much ultimately ended in tears.

As a whole, Irish Rugby is well used to such a phenomenon, lofty World Cup ambitions all too often proving the old adage that pride comes before a fall.

This though, on home soil and after the shot in the arm given to the women's game by the showing out in Marcoussis three years ago, will be among the most hard to stomach.

The hosts came into their opener against Australia with aspirations of matching the semi-final berth they achieved last time, and while they were hardly fluid, it was assumed the win against the Wallaroos would settle nerves.

But the win over minnows Japan was an arm-wrestle in what was expected to be a canter, and hopes of a last four spot were put to bed by a superior French side.

After the tournament moved north to Belfast, defeat to the same Australia side beaten to open the pool left the squad needing to beat Wales this weekend to qualify for the 2021 tournament, only for a first loss to their Celtic cousins since 2011 leaving the impression of an unmitigated disaster.

Emotions were clearly running high - Maz Reilly welled with tears ahead of what was suspected to be the last Test of her fine career, while others appeared not far behind, and while nobody could doubt the heart or commitment, the same system failures that have plagued their tournament were again to the fore in the 27-17 reverse.

With 13 players used in this tournament already in their thirties, it was no way for a raft of big name retirees to bow out.

"We knew this was going to be a last game for a couple of girls," admitted full-back Hannah Tyrrell. "It's a pity we couldn't make it a more positive experience for those players.

Head coach Tom Tierney quickly fell on his sword - although would neither confirm nor deny that his next gig is also with the IRFU - but there is a clear need for a far more wide ranging review.

"I'm very, very proud of the job that I've done," said the deposed Limerick native of three years in the post that included a Six Nations title in 2015.

"Obviously it hasn't ended the way we'd like, but that's life and you've just got to deal with that."

While there had been plenty of murmurs and whispers of tension between players and upper management, the former apparently feeling let down the latter, an interview appearing on the morning of the Wales game with Ruth O'Reilly appeared to leave everything out in the open.

With her own World Cup and international career ended by injury, the prop savaged the team's preparations as well as speaking of trust issues with coaches and a divide in the squad between contracted sevens players and non-paid 15s specialists.

The coach said afterwards that he was "disappointed" with the timing of the quotes, but prop Lindsay Peat said that she was unaware of the comments thanks to the media ban put on the players from 12pm the day before the game.

The 36-year-old former All-Ireland winner gave an emotional post-match interview, concluding that the squad "were hurting, and wanted to thank (the fans), and say sorry."

The feeling remains, though, that after the upcoming review, we could well find that it's her and her team-mates who are owed the apology.

Meanwhile, Emily Scaratt admitted to feeling "a bit empty" after England's women saw their hopes of retaining the Rugby World Cup dashed by New Zealand.

The Black Ferns scored seven tries on their way to a pulsating victory in Belfast, landing a fifth world title. And some of the England squad are now set to lose their professional contracts, with the Rugby Football Union putting an emphasis on Sevens for the next two years, although several players will be signed up by Twickenham chiefs to participate on the World Sevens circuit.

"I have hopefully got a few more years left in me yet, and we will see what they hold in terms of sevens, fifteens, or whatever it might be," said 27-year-old Scarratt, who is among those likely to land a Sevens deal.

"But I would certainly like to end my career playing fifteens. You want to send people out on top.

"I don't think anyone has announced anything official yet, but whether it is now or in a year's time, people will be stepping away. Some of our old birds won't go on to do four more years. It is gutting.

"I will go on a holiday somewhere, have a rest, eat a bit too much, drink a bit too much and put my feet up and see what happens when I come back."

England led 17-10 at half-time in their pursuit of a successful title defence, but the second 40 minutes proved a totally different story as New Zealand dominated.

"They kept the ball a lot better than we did, and it is really hard to play rugby when you don't have the ball," Scarratt added.

"Every time we gathered under the posts when they scored a try, we were saying exactly the right things. We knew how to fix it, but knowing how to fix it and then actually doing that are two quite different things.

"Having won one (World Cup), you certainly have a hell of a lot of hunger to win another one, and having lost one, you have a hell of a lot of hunger to try and avoid that again.

"When you have a loss like this, you feel a bit empty. We came to this tournament with a very specific goal, which was to come away with the trophy.

"The second half was really tough. They kept the ball really well, and when you have got a side as talented as that constantly on the front foot, it is extremely hard work."

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