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Five ways Ireland MUST improve, if they're to make World Cup semi-finals


By Cian Tracey

It hasn't exactly gone according to plan but Ireland go into tomorrow's Women's World Cup pool decider against France with their backs against the wall, and if history has taught us anything about this team, it is that that is when they are at their most dangerous.

The hosts are 80 minutes away from sealing a place in next week's semi-final in Belfast but if they are to achieve what they set out as their minimum goal prior to the tournament, there are five key areas that they must improve in...


The manner in which a far smaller Japanese pack demolished the Ireland scrum on Sunday made for grim viewing.

It wasn't until Ailis Egan came off the bench in the first half that the ship was steadied, while replacement hooker Leah Lyons also played her part.

The lineout went to pieces without the leadership of Maz O'Reilly and if Ireland are to quell the attacking threat of the French, they simply must hold their own at the set-piece.

Losing two scrums and three lineouts against the weakest team in the pool doesn't bode well but it is worth remembering that the Ireland set-piece was flawless against Australia.

Ireland showed what a weapon their rolling maul can be when they get it going but they will have their work cut out to do so against a bruising French pack.


Tom Tierney reckons his side are the best-prepared Ireland team to ever head into a World Cup but based on the evidence of the opening two games, that is certainly still questionable.

A huge emphasis has been put on Sevens in the last couple of years and given that several of the back-line have been involved in the shorter code, their inability to execute the basic skills in open play has been alarming.

These players have shown in the past that they are capable of turning it on but doing so in the pressure situation of a home World Cup has proven to be problematic.

At times, even Ireland's most experienced players have been guilty of forcing a pass or dropping a simple catch, which may well be down to nerves or maybe they are not as well prepared as they thought they were.

Having spent a lot of time in the IRFU's High Performance Centre in the build-up to the World Cup, it's not unfair to expect their basic skills to be of a higher standard.

They have the skills to perform, now is the time to prove it.


In the opening stages against Australia, Jenny Murphy darted off her line and put in a huge early hit to set the tempo for her side.

Without her aggression in defence, Ireland struggled for large parts against Japan and even though Sene Nauopu eventually grabbed the game by the scruff later on, the hosts desperately need both of their influential midfielders to be firing on all cylinders from the off.

A passive defence against a French side littered with dangerous strike runners will need to be reminded of that.

The hosts' fitness levels have been impressive throughout the tournament but it will need to go up another level tomorrow.

Getting off the line quickly and regularly to stop France gaining any momentum as they look to build multi-phase attacks will be vital.


There are plenty of aspects of Ireland's struggles that you could point to and say that Niamh Briggs would have made a big difference in but, above all, they have missed the injured captain's torpedo of a right boot.

While Nora Stapleton has kicked brilliantly from the tee (missing just one from seven shots at goal), she doesn't have the same distance with ball in hand as Briggs.

Consequently, Ireland's exit strategies have been poor and, more often than not, the pack are repeatedly asked to make the hard yards deep inside their own 22. Apart from that ploy being utterly energy-sapping, it is also a highly risky game to play, particularly against an aggressive French outfit.

If Ireland can find a way to pin France back in their own half and play the territory, they will give themselves a great chance of causing an upset.


Heading into game three of a World Cup, one would have expected the Ireland starting XV to have a settled look to it but on the face of it, there looks to be several places still up for grabs.

Tierney was correct to rotate his squad for the Japan game and the seven new faces that he brought in should have had enough quality to win the game more comfortably.

Nicole Cronin had an excellent debut and will push close for a starting berth. Hooker Leah Lyons was excellent off the bench and in truth was unlucky to lose her place after a fine Six Nations.

Full-back has been a major problem area, while the back-row has been imbalanced. It will be fascinating to see if Tierney sticks with Ashleigh Baxter - a converted winger who hasn't yet made her mark in a new position at this World Cup.

Tierney insists that all 28 players are fit and available so the head coach has options. Picking the right ones, however, will make or break him.

Belfast Telegraph


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