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Hosts Ireland are ready to take on World: Briggs

 

By Cliona Foley

Ulster have two representatives in the Ireland Women's squad for next month's Women's Rugby World Cup, which is being hosted in Belfast and Dublin.

Cooke stars Ashleigh Baxter and Claire McLaughlin have been named in the final squad of 28, which will be captained by Munster's Niamh Briggs.

Baxter, 25, will be playing in her second World Cup for Ireland and is also a regular member of the Ireland Sevens squad. The Belfast woman is likely to be a regular in the squad at flanker.

McLaughlin, also 25, is a centre and balances her medical studies at Queen's University with her rugby. She will be confident of earning a place in the Ireland starting line-up come their opening match against Australia.

Ireland's head coach Tom Tierney believes his girls have "wanted for nothing" and have absolutely no excuses for not producing the goods.

"We're the best prepared team going into a World Cup in the history of the game here and we have absolutely no excuses," said Tierney.

Tierney's final squad of 28 includes just one uncapped player in Limerick scrum-half Nicole Cronin.

Cronin, who is related to men's international Sean Cronin, was on a soccer scholarship in America and played internationally at Under-17 level before opting to specialise in Sevens rugby.

Her opportunity to play 15-a-side rugby earlier was curtailed when she got injured on the international Sevens circuit last season.

Captain Briggs has no doubts about the ability of her UL/Bohemians team-mate. She said: "Nicole is a super player. She's quick, a very good footballer, excelled at Sevens and has been a huge addition to the group both on and off the field. She'll definitely be pushing for a starting spot."

Cronin offers back-up at No.9, but Ireland have no specialist cover for out-half Nora Stapleton after Nikki Caughey suffered a medial ligament knee injury in training last weekend.

Tierney believes that he has enough versatility in the backs to cope, stressing that Briggs and Sene Naoupu can both cover at 10.

Ireland open their tough group campaign against Australia on August 9, following that with games against Japan (August 13) and France four days later.

They beat Japan in two warm-up games this summer and got the better of France 13-10 in Donnybrook in last season's Six Nations.

Twelve of the final squad were involved when Ireland made the WRWC semi-finals in 2014, while Briggs, Stapleton, Claire Molloy and Marie-Louise Reilly will be at their third World Cup.

Making their debuts at this level are former inter-county GAA players Eimear Considine (Clare) and Lindsay Peat (Dublin).

Briggs said she is fully recovered from the hamstring injury which has kept her out of competitive rugby since last November.

"This is by far our best prepared squad in terms of strength and depth and the time we've had together," she said.

"Having the tournament on home soil is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and it's important that we make the most of it, but we can't get too high or too low - we have to keep focusing on our next game."

Backs: Niamh Briggs (captain UL/Bohs), Eimear Considine (UL/Bohs), Mairead Coyne (Galwegians), Nicole Cronin (UL/Bohs), Jeamie Deacon (Blackrock), Katie Fitzhenry (Blackrock), Claire McLaughlin (Cooke), Alison Miller (OB), Larissa Muldoon (Railway Union), Jenny Murphy (Old Belvedere), Sene Naoupu (Harlequins), Nora Stapleton (Old Belvedere), Hannah Tyrrell (OB).

Forwards: Ashleigh Baxter (Cooke), Anna Caplice (UL/Bohs), Ciara Cooney (Railway Union), Ailis Egan (Old Belvedere), Paula Fitzpatrick (St Mary's), Ciara Griffin (UL/Bohs), Leah Lyons (Highfield), Claire Molloy (Bristol), Cliodhna Moloney (RU), Heather O'Brien (HF), Ciara O'Connor (Galwegians), Ruth O'Reilly (Galwegians), Lindsay Peat (RU), Marie-Louise Reilly (OB), Sophie Spence (OB).

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