Victory the minimum requirement as Ireland chase World Cup spot

A momentous afternoon lies ahead at the Stadio Sergio Lanfranchi in Parma. Italy and Spain kick things off at 2pm Irish time
Victory the minimum requirement as Ireland chase World Cup spot

A momentous afternoon lies ahead at the Stadio Sergio Lanfranchi in Parma. Italy and Spain kick things off at 2pm Irish time. Picture: INPHO/James Crombie

Adam Griggs and his players will have woken this morning not knowing whether a win against Scotland in the last of their World Cup qualifiers will be enough to book passage to New Zealand for next year’s tournament.

That will change come 4pm or so today.

A momentous afternoon lies ahead at the Stadio Sergio Lanfranchi in Parma. Italy and Spain kick things off at 2pm Irish time, to be followed three hours later by the meeting of the Celtic sides.

When it’s all said and done, one of them will have done enough to start planning for 2022. Whoever finishes second will get one last stab at it in the very last repechage. The other two will be launching into dismal post-mortems.

It’s perfectly poised. All four are on five points after the opening two rounds and, with head-to-heads deciding the placings in the event of teams ending on equal points, Ireland will hope that they can bag a stripe of win better than anything a Spanish side that had their number in the opener can manage.

That Ireland and the Scots will know exactly what they have to do by the time their turn comes around due to nothing more arbitrary than the vagaries of a kick-off time is, to be bald about it, utterly unfair on the Italians and Spanish.

Even if Griggs wouldn’t agree.

“I wouldn’t because we wouldn’t have been able to put ourselves in this scenario from the first weekend’s games. It’s just the way the table has turned out with everyone on one win and one loss.

“So I don’t even think World Rugby would have planned for such a final day. To be honest, I just think it’s the luck of the draw that we’re playing last and we’ll then have an idea what we need to do.”

Well, he would say that, wouldn’t he?

Fair or not, those are the cards that everyone has been dealt, but it would be fascinating to see what might transpire if the Spanish win without a bonus point and Ireland are leading Scotland by a narrow margin with the clock winding down.

What do you do? Do you play it safe and accept that second place and the repechage is better than nothing? Or do you have at it and go for broke with the attendant risk that you could lose it all?

“We’ve discussed those (scenarios) earlier on in the week so by this time, around the captain’s run and into the game, it’s in the back of our minds,” said Griggs who has named an unchanged side from the win over Italy last Sunday.

“It’s probably more as a coaching group we will keep an eye on those things. Essentially, the message to the group is we want to win this game, whether we want to finish first or second. We need to win.”

It could very easily come down to tight margins. In both games.

Spain’s 8-7 defeat of Ireland on day one created shock waves here but the former will have no inferiority complex against an Italian side that they have beaten 10 times in 14 meetings while a pair of meetings at the 2017 World Cup produced a win apiece.

Ireland’s task looks more straightforward, on paper. Scotland have lost 14 out of the last 15 meetings between the Six Nations rivals but that sole victory came just three years ago in Dublin and recent contests have been tight enough.

As with Griggs, Scottish coach Bryan Easson has gone with an unchanged 15 after they rebounded from their opening loss to the Azzurri with a bonus-point success against the hosts, and they will not want to miss a third World Cup on the trot.

For Ireland, failure to qualify would be nothing shy of an unmitigated disaster and another slide down the women’s ladder for a nation that reached the semi-final in 2014 and claimed a pair of Six Nations titles in the same decade.

Limiting their opponents to just 15 points so far, including two tries, has been a plus but they have failed time and again to turn possession and territory into scores and the lineout has been another department which has consistently failed to function.

The win over Italy was far from perfect but it did show that they can handle the pressure after their Iberian ignominy.

“In these competitions, every game is important,” said captain Ciara Griffin. “It is an important game, it will define our season, our structure. It’s vitally important for me and the rest of the group.”

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