When you’ve locked horns and beaten women’s rugby giants New Zealand and World Cup champions England in the recent past, taking on highly-ranked Canada isn’t quite the frightening prospect it could be.
Today’s clash in the second of three Autumn internationals at the UCD Bowl (2pm) will be a tough ask for Ireland against a side that surprised many by making it all the way to the 2014 World Cup final where England beat them 21-9.
However, UL Bohemian, Munster and Ireland prop Fiona Hayes was quick to point out the girls in green created their own bit of history in that tournament by shocking the fancied Black Ferns en route to a third/fourth place play-off against France.
Hayes lines out to win her 15th cap this afternoon. She is respectful of Canada’s loftier position in the rankings but is not in the slightest bit intimidated.
“Look, they’re a good side, they base their game on moving the ball, they would be very backs-orientated in the way they play and they do play with a fair degree of pace. But I think we have achieved a lot in recent years, we’re now in a place where I don’t think we should fear anyone beyond the normal fear you have going into any game.”
A decade or so ago, Ireland would have found it hard to compete against the top sides but, having beaten England twice in the past – and only lost to them by a late score last week – and having won the Six Nations Grand Slam in 2013, it’s onwards and upwards.
“Nowadays, we see everyone as beatable,” declared a determined Hayes, who hopes to make her mark in more than just the scrum exchanges this afternoon. Having once played in the back row, she holds Richie McCaw, CJ Stander and Peter O’Mahony as role models. “Their ability at ruck-time is immense. I know I’m playing in the front row but I do like to be competitive in the battle for possession at ruck-time. I like making a nuisance of myself.”
Limerick-born Hayes grew up a stone’s throw from Thomond Park in Woodview and followed rugby when her brother started playing in Ard Scoil Rís, around the same time as the iconic Paul O’Connell.
Yet, having dabbled in boxing and Gaelic Football, she also excelled in soccer and is proud holder of an FAI Cup medal with Cork club Douglas Hall – she works as a youth worker in the city.
It was in UL she decided to give rugby a try, although she admits: “I was a bit hesitant at first to be honest; I wasn’t quite sure about the physicality of it.
“Nowadays, though, I thoroughly enjoy it and it’s fantastic to be given the opportunity to play for Munster and Ireland.”
Today provides her with an opportunity to help tick another box on her own and Ireland’s wishlist.
M Coyne (Galwegians/ Connacht), N Kavanagh (UL Bohemian/Munster), N Fowley (Galwegians/Connacht), S Naoupu (Aylesford Bulls), A Miller (Old Belve dere/Connacht), N Caughey (Railway Union/Ulster), M Healy (Galwegians/ Connacht), F Hayes (UL Bohemian/Munster), Z Grattage (Highfield/Munster), F Reidy (UL Bohemian/Munster), K Norris (Blackrock College/Leinster), N Fryday (Tullamore RFC/Leinster), C Cooney (Railway Union/Leinster), A Caplice (UL Bohemians/Munster), P Fitzpatrick (St. Mary’s/Leinster, captain)
L Lyons (Highfield/Munster), L Peat (Railway Union/Leinster), A Egan (Old Belvedere/Leinster), E Anthony (Highfield/Munster), C Pearse (UL Bohemians/Munster), L Muldoon (Railway Union), J Shiels (Old Belvedere/Leinster), C McLaughlin (Cooke/Ulster)
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