Belfast Telegraph

Ireland coach expecting to feel the heat ahead of World Cup play-off in Belfast


By Jonathan Bradley

With Ireland's World Cup hopes already over as they prepare for the Belfast leg of the tournament, head coach Tom Tierney has defended his side's showing and insisted he is ready for the criticism now guaranteed to come his way.

Having reached the semi-finals in France three years ago, the host nation have suffered massive disappointment on home soil and will be aiming only for a spot in Saturday's fifth-place play-off when they meet Australia at the Kingspan Stadium this afternoon (2pm kick-off).

After the side stuttered to opening victories over today's opponents and then Japan, before falling to a convincing France side without truly landing a blow, knives have been sharpened all over the island, with Tierney's predecessor Philip Doyle already openly questioning the results that have left today's clash feeling somewhat like a balloon that has already been liberated of its air.

"What happened tonight cannot be blamed on any player," Doyle tweeted on Thursday after Ireland's semi-final aspirations were shattered. "They are told what to do."

No coach would welcome the spectre of a more successful forerunner lurking, and tweeting, over his shoulder, and the implication here was clear - the heat is on not just Tierney but his boss, Women's and Sevens Director of Rugby Anthony Eddy.

The head coach, though, an international himself having been capped eight times in a nine-month spell beginning in June 1999, said yesterday he was ready for the slings and arrows.

"There's been a lot said in the press but that's fair enough," he said. "That's people's opinion and that doesn't bother me. I've been a professional rugby player or professional coach for 21 years now.

"There's no fear in me. It's all part and parcel of the job. I've a job to do and the media do as well, I understand that. All I want is to make sure the players aren't affected. It's got nothing to do with me."

He did, though, defend his side's showing, believing that the loss to France last week is being viewed in a harsh light.

"I suppose at the end of the day time will tell," he said of the tournament-defining loss to a side Ireland had beaten 13-10 back in February.

"This French team, they're going into a semi-final against England (today). A lot of people are asking why we weren't as good as they were but I personally think that 21-5, it's not what we're looking for, but France have swept aside a lot of very good teams.

"We came up against a very, very good French team. That's being disregarded a little bit.

"That French team is as good as anyone in the tournament. I think they'll put England to the sword, the same England that put 34 points on us in the Six Nations and people said that day we played well and were very unlucky.

"It's a game of inches and, at times on Thursday, the flow just went against us."

While the tournament began for Ireland in the most testing of fashions, losing their captain and star player Niamh Briggs to an Achilles injury, the way it has all ended will prompt one obvious question - what's next?

For his part, Tierney hopes that, despite his side's uninspiring showing, the increased numbers exposed to the women's game through the clashes in Dublin and now Belfast will grow participation figures ahead of future tournaments.

"We've brought through a lot of players and that'll be good going forward. We've got to put structures in place which will see the game grow," he said.

"This tournament has shown that the game is getting bigger and bigger and there will be a huge emphasis now on the skills of the players and the fitness of the players.

"The key is to put structures in place for the domestic game. The enthusiasm and the desire to get involved, that has to have a structure that we can build on."

For a game that is kicking-off at least three hours too early for Ireland's liking - the semi-finals will also be at Kingspan Stadium with New Zealand against USA getting under way at 5pm, followed by England's meeting with France at 7.45pm - Tierney has made three changes to the side beaten by Les Bleus with Cliodhna Moloney, Louise Galvin and Ciara Cooney all promoted from the bench to the starting line-up.

Sadly for the competition's first game in Belfast, there will be no Ulster involvement in the run-on side, although Claire McLaughlin, Larissa Muldoon and Ilse van Staden, only called up over the weekend after injury to Ruth O'Reilly, will all be hoping to be called upon from the bench.

Tierney admitted that refreshing his side mentally ahead of a second meeting with the Wallaroos would be a challenge.

"Obviously there was a bit of heartbreak," he said. "They've trained so hard, and the management team, we're in the same boat. We were upset, we were disappointed. We have to show a bit of mental toughness and get back on the horse.

"The plan of action has just been to regroup. It was a very tough night on Thursday. We've just been trying to keep everyone together and keep everyone focused. It's been a case of picking people up mentally rather than physically.

"It's a challenge, we won't shy away from that.

"We have to put the last few days behind us. Not many people get the chance to play for their country and we've got to grab that with both hands whatever the circumstances. There's a lot of what ifs and almosts in how we've played so we want to put a lot of things on show now.

"It's very difficult but that's the challenge, that's sport. We're ready to go against Australia. We're looking forward now."

The post mortem, though, could be just beginning.

Ireland (v Australia, Kingspan Stadium, kick-off 2pm): Hannah Tyrrell (Old Belvedere/Leinster), Louise Galvin (UL Bohemians/Munster); Jenny Murphy (Old Belvedere/Leinster), Sene Naoupu (Harlequins), Alison Miller (Old Belvedere/Connacht), Nora Stapleton (Old Belvedere/Leinster), Nicole Cronin (UL Bohemians/Munster), Lindsay Peat (Railway Union/Leinster), Cliodhna Moloney (Railway Union/Leinster), Ailis Egan (Old Belvedere/Leinster), Ciara Cooney (Railway Union/Leinster), Marie Louise Reilly (Old Belvedere/Leinster), Ciara Griffin (UL Bohemians/Munster), Claire Molloy (Bristol/Connacht) (capt), Paula Fitzpatrick (St. Mary's/Leinster).

Replacements: Leah Lyons (Highfield/Munster), Ilse van Staden (Cooke/Ulster, Ciara O'Connor (Galwegians/Connacht), Sophie Spence (Old Belvedere/Leinster), Anna Caplice (UL Bohemians/Munster, Larissa Muldoon (Railway Union/Ulster), Katie Fitzhenry (Blackrock/Leinster), Claire McLaughlin (Cooke/Ulster).

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