Fifth in the world against sixth. It looks tight on paper, and maybe it will be, but only one side is likely to escape Pool C of this 2017 Women’s Rugby World Cup, so this is a game that the hosts simply have to win.
They ought to, in fairness.
The Wallaroos have played just five Tests since finishing seventh at the last tournament in France, in 2014, their decision to concentrate on the sevens game vindicated in some style in Brazil last year when pipping New Zealand to the gold medal.
Shannon Parry and Sharni Williams both returned from Rio de Janeiro with precious metal and are joined this evening by 23-year old Mahalia Murphy, who has also made the temporary switch over from the shorter code.
They will strengthen a squad of players that played three of those five Tests on a tour to New Zealand back in June when they shipped heavy defeats to the world’s three top teams. England were 43 points the better side, the hosts 27, and Canada 40.
“They play a very confrontational game,” said Ireland coach Tom Tierney. “They have a very big and aggressive pack. They like to use big ball carriers off nine and ten and they try to play a good phase play type of attack.
“They brought in a lot of quality sevens players who won Olympic medals and they will be champing at the bit. That’s a great challenge for us as a team. They have all these big stars coming into their team and we are relishing that.”
It’s Tierney’s job to talk up the opposition but an Irish squad with so much work banked on the basics of scrums, lineouts, and much more besides should be too experienced and too well-drilled to let this one slip against a side with such limited prep time.
An experienced Australian player is one with over 10 caps. Tierney has spent the last year or so spreading the net wider for talent but he has gone largely with familiar faces here. His starting XV boasts 411 caps at an average of over 27 per player.
Tweaks have been made, not just in the enforced absence of full-back Niamh Briggs. Paula Fitzpatrick moves from the back row to the second row while Ashleigh Baxter’s makeover from winger to blindside flanker via her time with the sevens squad is now complete.
Familiar combinations still abound.
Nora Stapleton and Larissa Muldoon are regular partners at half-back while Jenny Murphy and Sene Naoupu have forged a good understanding at centre. The pack is replete with nous and big things are expected, too, of the still inexperienced tighthead prop Lindsay Peat.
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