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Our girls begin road to World Cup the hard way

By Emma Patterson

The Irish Women's Rugby team kick off their trio of autumn international test matches against England tomorrow at UCD (2.00pm) ahead of next year's World Cup in Belfast and Dublin.

England are one of three titans of women's rugby that Ireland will play host to in the coming weeks, alongside Canada and New Zealand.

The test series will present undeniably strong opposition as the Black Ferns hold the most World Cup titles, four in total, and England are the defending World Champions, having defeated Ireland at the semi-final stage and Canada in the final of the 2014 tournament.

The Red Roses will surely field a formidable side tomorrow, featuring the likes of loose forward Sarah Hunter, who was recently nominated for the World Rugby Women's Player of the Year Award.

Irish Head Coach Tom Tierney emphasised the importance of the friendlies, stating that "this weekend marks the first game of what is arguably going to be the biggest season in the history of Ireland's Women's Rugby.

"To have three test series this month just goes to show that the women's game is growing at a huge rate.

"Obviously England this Sunday will be a very hard test, but we've also got games against teams we wouldn't regularly play, so it's hugely beneficial for us, and we're looking at it as a trial run for the World Cup."

Ireland are without skipper Niamh Briggs this weekend due to a hamstring injury, but despite missing out on the action she was keen to highlight the importance of the test series.

"It's more than just test matches for us, it's the quality of opposition," Niamh said.

"They are three of the top nations in the world and we get to go up against them three weekends in a row which will be difficult for us, but we need to know where we are as a squad.

"There's great excitement about the squad and we've trained incredibly hard, so we'll wait to get a game under our belts and then see where we are.

"England are World Champions, and the best team in the world for that reason, but it's important to focus on ourselves as well.

"The women's game has exploded in recent times thanks to development and funding from the IRFU, and we want to create a legacy so that when we retire, we leave the game in a better place than we found it."

Irish flyhalf Nora Stapleton echoed the captain's regard for England, emphasising it will be a crucial tie for the girls in green.

"There has been a lot of talk about England over the past while, and the professional contracts that they've given out to their players, which is great to see, and hopefully more countries will be able to follow that.

"We're constantly looking at the next game at hand, we're completely focused on England, and once that's over we'll turn our attention to the next test matches against Canada and New Zealand."

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