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Ireland taking it one step at time to semis

By Donnchadh Boyle

"Gone are the days when we go out and try and stop teams. We know what we're capable of and we have to believe that we can win the World Cup."

These were the words of Ireland women's captain Fiona Coghlan prior to the World Cup finals in France.

A week later and two wins out of two – including Tuesday's historic victory over New Zealand – Coghlan's rallying call looks as much inspired, as it was realistic.

That sense of self-belief has been a recurring theme throughout the Ireland squad. The experience of Coghlan has rubbed off on several of her younger team-mates, while driving them all collectively is Philip Doyle, whose stock as a top-class coach is rapidly growing.

"We've just won a game in the World Cup. We've now got one foot inside a semi-final of a World Cup and that is as far as it is," Doyle reflected in the aftermath of the stunning 17-14 win over the Black Ferns.

Ireland face Kazakhstan in their final pool game on Saturday and, given that the minnows are rooted to the foot of Pool B without a single point and have conceded bonus points in their opening two games, it would take a massive upset for Doyle's side not to reach the last four of the competition for the first time.

But such is the attitude in the Irish camp no one is getting ahead of themselves just yet.

"We've achieved nothing until the final whistle of the tournament. It's just a group game in a World Cup – though a very big group game – but no, we've got a lot to go yet," said Doyle.

"I am so proud of the girls. So proud. They've worked incredibly hard and there has always been this performance in us.

"Things didn't go perfectly and we have a lot to work on. A few things malfunctioned, but we kept to the task and we got the result."

The notion that Ireland could have beaten a New Zealand side that had lost only once in the tournament's history and still have "a lot to work on" speaks volumes for how far women's rugby in this country has come.

"We analyse teams nearly to death sometimes, but we did notice in previous games that New Zealand can crack under pressure. When you are in their face they do get a bit sloppy."

Doyle's level of scrupulous detail has been one of the major foundations of Ireland's success in recent years. Whoever steps into his shoes after the World Cup will have a huge task.

Niamh Briggs, whose nerves of steel from dead balls has helped Ireland to victory in both their opening two games, was quick to point to the work of Ireland's coaching team and, in particular, the mental strength that they have instilled in the squad.

"We've got great belief in our squad and the coaches really instill that in us. We've shown in the last couple of games that we can win when we put our minds to it.

"The last two victories will count for nothing, though, if we don't beat Kazakhstan," Briggs added.

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