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Ireland victory is a must to avoid World Cup humiliation

 

By Michael Sadlier

So this is it then. Beat Wales today (kick-off 2.00pm at the Kingspan Stadium) and seventh belongs to Ireland, lose and it's eighth and the ignominy of having to qualify for the next World Cup.

And all this is sitting heavily on the hosts who came into this tournament harbouring not unrealistic ambitions of matching, if not even bettering, the high watermark of finishing fourth back in 2014.

Ireland should finish up with the victory they need over a pretty indifferent Welsh side but, then again, this tournament has been all about how the women in green have serially underperformed and, as such, nothing can be taken for granted.

After all, Ireland were expected to easily brush Japan aside in the pool stages and, as things turned out, struggled to beat them.

Then the wheels really came off.

Indeed, after the two consecutive, and resounding, defeats handed out to Tom Tierney's squad by France and Australia respectively - the Wallaroos turning the tables on the Irish in style on Tuesday at the Kingspan after narrowly losing to them in the opening round of pool games in Dublin - it is not unreasonable to wonder if the hosts have anything left in the tank.

Going into today's game without skipper Claire Molloy will not have added to squad morale, but coach Tierney is adamant there is a big display still to come from his players and that, of course, it has to happen against Wales.

"The girls have been threatening a really good performance," Tierney said yesterday.

"And what better way now to finish the tournament, that has of course been disappointing, with a really good performance against the Welsh."

The under pressure Tierney - his existing deal runs out before the next Six Nations - was still determined to sound upbeat even though he has been in the firing line over this off-colour Irish effort.

"Yes, it's seventh versus eighth, and seventh qualifies automatically for the next World Cup, so yeah we're under no illusions that it's not the match we wanted to be playing in," stated the coach.

"But that's the reality of it now and we want to make sure we go out there and hopefully perform.

"We really want to put in a performance, especially early in the game to get ourselves up and running and get the win."

The former Ireland international added: "It's been quite emotional for the group in getting two wins (Australia and Japan) and then the disappointment followed of the French game and last Tuesday against the Australians where we didn't perform at all.

"We were up against a really good outfit against France, and that was the key game in the tournament and unfortunately it didn't happen for us.

"It's a challenge again but hopefully the girls are in a good place and can employ a good, solid game-plan against the Welsh," stated Tierney.

The coach is hoping that Donegal-born out-half Nora Stapleton's 50th cap will energise the side to sign-off with an appropriate result for the occasion.

Tierney has made four changes to the side which lost 36-24 to Australia on Tuesday. A new centre partnership of Katie Fitzhenry and Jeamie Deacon start with Sene Naoupu benched and Jenny Murphy out having failed an HIA.

Eimear Considine is brought in on the right wing while Heather O'Brien is at number eight with Molloy out with an HIA.

Ulster-wise, Cooke's Ashleigh Baxter is benched along with club-mate Ilse van Staden, while Claire McLaughlin drops out of the squad after Tuesday. Donegal-born Larissa Muldoon is also on the bench.

Ireland: H Tyrrell, E Considine, K Fitzhenry, J Deacon, A Miller, N Stapleton, N Cronin; L Peat, C Moloney, A Egan, C Cooney, M-L Reilly, P Fitzpatrick, C Griffin, H O'Brien

Replacements: L Lyons, I van Staden, C O'Connor, S Spence, A Baxter, L Muldoon, S Naoupu, M Coyne.

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