Irish women aim to end journey together on high

The French rugby union’s HQ in Marcoussis is a quiet enough sort of spot at the best of times, but it must be positively eerie today as so many of its current residents come to terms with the events of Wednesday evening.

Irish women aim to end journey together on high

Ireland and France have established quarters a stone’s throw from each other this past two weeks and they will get to see more of each other on Sunday having lost their respective semi-finals to England and Canada two nights ago.

No doubt about it, yesterday will have been grim.

Another game will be something of a mixed blessing, but one the Irish players will surely come to see as more than just a necessary evil given the fact it will be the last time a number of them and members of their coaching staff will be involved.

Head coach Philip Doyle is standing down, bringing to an end a spell where he served the women’s national team for 14 of the last 17 years, and attack coach Greg McWilliams is taking up a prestigious rugby post at Yale University.

Fitness coach Marian Earls is assuming a conditioning role with Connacht, manager Gemma Crowley turns her attention to a post with the 2015 Rugby World Cup and the only question is how many of the players will drift off with them.

“It’s gonna be tough, I’ll be honest with you, but the girls are really resilient,” said Doyle of Sunday’s last step. “They will have a good chat about it and will back themselves and we will throw the kitchen sink at this. We will give it everything.”

Eight of the starting 15 who lost 40-7 to England on Wednesday evening were aged 30 or over. A further four are 29. Only winger Ashleigh Baxter, at 22, took the anthems as a player thinking that she could do this for another decade.

It may well be, for example, that we have seen the last of Lynne Cantwell in an Irish jersey. The 32-year-old suffered a concussion in tackling England centre Emily Scarratt and Doyle rated her as doubtful for France.

As Ireland’s most capped player and someone who has been playing for her country since 2001, she will be almost impossible to replace, but then the squad absorbed retirements after the last World Cup, too.

Nine of the 26-woman squad were experiencing a World Cup for the first time and there is an evident determination to atone for their lifeless performance against England.

There is more to it than that, too. They may have been isolated geographically in Marcoussis this past two weeks, but the impact made by their defeat of the Black Ferns filtered through unambiguously.

There is a real sense that this World Cup has catapulted the women’s game forward exponentially on a global scale as well as at home and there is a recognition that the envelope must continue to be pushed.

“The IRFU have backed us the whole way,” said full-back Niamh Briggs. “They have been absolutely incredible and they have given us unbelievable coaching staff and a structure.

“Unfortunately for Philip and them that are moving on we couldn’t finish on a better note but I have no doubt he is incredibly proud of where we are today and hopefully we can give him a better send-off on Sunday.”

They don’t need to look that hard for a blueprint.

Since losing to Ireland so unexpectedly last week, New Zealand have taken their pain out on a decent USA side and put 63 points on Wales.

“We’ll definitely be looking to do that,” said Briggs. “That dressing room is one I never want to experience again because the silence was absolutely deafening. It was very eerie in there.

“We said we don’t want to feel this way on Sunday. We don’t want to feel like it ever again. Women’s rugby is on the up in Ireland and this is just a one-off bad performance. It won’t be like this on Sunday.”

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