Coghlan targets top-four finish

IRB WOMEN’S RUGBY WORLD CUP POOL B:
Ireland v USA
Ireland begin their Women’s Rugby World Cup pool campaign in Paris today, with captain Fiona Coghlan targeting a top-four finish for the 2013 Grand Slam winners.

Ireland's Ailis Egan, Sharon Lynch and Fiona Coghlan get some  scrummaging practice at yesterday's squad training in Paris. Picture: Inpho

UL Bohemian and Leinster prop Coghlan, 33, will embark on her third World Cup campaign when Ireland get their tournament up and running with a Pool B opener against the United States in Marcoussis. Having felt the Irish underachieved when finishing seventh in 2010, Coghlan has high hopes this time around.

“I know some people would say improve your ranking and that’s a success, but I was there in 2006 and we finished in eighth position. Then in 2010 we were a far better team and we only got to seventh. To be honest, that wasn’t very good even though we improved our ranking,” said Coghlan.

“So this time I think we definitely have to focus on trying to make the top four, whether that’s by winning our pool or finishing best runner-up over the three pools. From then it’s anyone’s game on the day. As a player having been involved before, I think we should definitely be looking at the top four.”

Ireland head coach Philip Doyle will field an experienced side against the Women’s Eagles, having yesterday named 14 Grand Slam medal winners in his starting XV. Scrum-half Tania Rosser, having missed out last season due to injury, gets the nod over Larissa Muldoon in the absence of the injured Amy Davis.

Coghlan, who packs down in a front row alongside UL Bohs clubmate Gillian Bourke at hooker with her Leinster team-mate Ailis Egan at tighthead, believes a battle-hardened squad is a pre-requisite to a successful tournament.

“When you’re going into a World Cup you want as much experience as possible. You look at successful teams in the past and they will have had experienced squads. I do think you need that experience, in how to close out games and other stuff, particularly at a World Cup where every point counts, either for or against. We saw that at the last World Cup where we were within points difference of making the semi-finals. Australia got there in the end and we ended up finishing seventh, just through points difference.”

In a group that also features three-time and current world champions New Zealand, their second opponents next Tuesday, as well as Kazakhstan, Coghlan understands the importance of a strong start to the campaign. However, she is not taking today’s American challenge lightly.

“Like any team, you go into a World Cup to win it but we’re realistic about what’s ahead of us,” she said.

“The USA, a lot of people won’t realise but they’re actually ranked above us. At the last World Cup we met them on two occasions, in the pool game where we beat them and then in the play-offs when they beat us significantly. So we know it’s a huge task and that they’ll be a very capable side in what will be a huge game.

“It’s all we’re focusing on at the moment, we have to get off to a good start in that first game. We haven’t looked too much past that, but it’s very exciting to be going on to play New Zealand, the world champions for the past four times in a row.

“We’re not looking past the USA but it is there in the back of the mind that we will be playing the world champions.”

With the Six Nations Grand Slam in 2013 taking women’s rugby to another level in Ireland, the IRFU signing a significant sponsorship deal for Coghlan’s team earlier this season and today’s opener with the USA being televised live on TG4, the Irish women are experiencing unprecedented recognition for their sport.

“To be honest, I never thought I’d see the day when we’d be on the telly and the recognition we’ve had,” the captain said.

“It’s absolutely brilliant and we’ve strived for that kind of recognition for so long that we’re going to just embrace it.

“There’ll be a lot of supporters who won’t be able to get over and watch us in Paris so it’s just brilliant that they will be able to watch the matches on television and support us along the way.

“Yes, there is more pressure when you’ve won a Grand Slam and people have higher expectations of you, but no more than ourselves. We’re in it to win it, but we have to see how things go.

“We’re definitely going to embrace everything that comes our way coverage-wise and support-wise and hopefully bring the game on again.”

IRELAND: N Briggs (UL Bohemian/Munster); A Baxter (Belfast Harlequins/Ulster), L Cantwell (Richmond RFC/Exile), G Davitt (Cooke/Ulster), A Miller (Portlaoise/Connacht); N Stapleton (Old Belvedere/Leinster), T Rosser (Blackrock/Leinster); F Coghlan (UL Bohemian/Leinster) – captain, G Bourke (UL Bohemian/Munster), A Egan (Old Belvedere/Leinster); S Spence (Old Belvedere/Leinster), M L Reilly (Old Belvedere/Leinster); S Fleming (Tralee/Munster), C Molloy (Bristol/Connacht), H O’Brien (Highfield RFC/Munster).

Replacements: S Lynch (Old Belvedere/Leinster), F Hayes (UL Bohemians/Munster), L Guest (Highfield/Munster), P Fitzpatrick (St Mary’s College/Leinster), L Muldoon (Bristol/Exile), J Murphy (Old Belvedere/Leinster), J Shiels (Richmond RFC/Exile).

Skipper wary of New Zealand, Canada, England and France

As the Women’s Rugby World Cup gets under way with games being televised live on TG4 and Sky Sports, Ireland captain Fiona Coghlan picks out some teams and players to keep an eye out for over the next two and a half weeks.

“New Zealand are always a very good team to watch. They have some very elusive players, the likes of Huriana Manuel, their 13, is a phenomenal player and across the park they have some really good players. Looking across the other pools, Canada have invested a huge amount in the women’s game and they’re seeing the rewards of that.

“England are always up there as one of the dominant powers in women’s rugby and they’ve gone pretty much pro for the last couple of months. And then France, at home, they’re unreal and can turn it on when they want to. They’ve won the Grand Slam in the Six Nations this year and they’ll be another team to watch.”



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