Our third and final preview of the teams in the 2017 Women’s Rugby World Cup, and we’ve finally got round to the one you have all been waiting for; Pool C, featuring Ireland, France, Australia and Japan.

As before, we’ll review the teams in order of their current World Ranking.

France

World Ranking: 4

FRU Favourite: Gaëlle Mignot

Squad: Manon Andre, Julie Annery, Lise Arricastre, Patricia Carricaburu, Lénaig Corson, Annaëlle Deshayes, Julie Duval, Céline Ferer, Audrey Forlani, Romane Menager, Gaëlle Mignot, Safi N’Diaye, Caroline Thomas, Dhia Traore, Audrey Abadie, Montserrat Amedee, Caroline Boujard, Caroline Drouin, Elodie Guiglion, Shannon Izar, Caroline Ladagnous, Jade Le Pesq, Marjorie Mayans, Carla Neisen, Chloé Pelle, Elodie Poublan, Yanna Rivoalen, Jessy Tremouliere.

Update: Out Jessy Tremouliere. In Camille Grassineau

Last 5 Form: 3 wins 2 losses

18-Mar-17 France 39-19  Wales
12-Mar-17 Italy 5-28  France
26-Feb-17 Ireland 13-10  France
11-Feb-17 France 55–0  Scotland
04-Feb-17 England 26–13  France

Where do you start with France? Brilliant one minute, disinterested and lethargic the next. Certainly the last time we saw them, against Ireland in February, they looked as though their minds were on something other than the game.

However, they remain one of the powers of the women’s game, finishing in the top four in six of the seven previous tournaments, and unfortunately for Ireland, the smart money would have them finishing in the top four once again, despite Ireland’s win in February.

If France do get through to the top 4, and it is a significant “if”, they are one of the few sides that would be capable of upsetting New Zealand or Canada, their likely opponents. A lot will depend on key player Safi N’Diaye, who appears to have got back in shape after a disappointing Six Nations. If fit and if interested she is a hugely destructive force off the back of a scrum.

However, the true heartbeat of the French side is their influential captain and FRU Favourite Gaëlle Mignot, who is probably the best hooker in the tournament. If Mignot can get the big French pack wound up and pointing in the right direction they are more than capable of causing a few surprises.

Ireland

World Ranking: 5

FRU Favourite: Paula Fitzpatrick

Squad: Ashleigh Baxter, Anna Caplice, Ciara Cooney, Ailis Egan, Paula Fitzpatrick, Ciara Griffin, Leah Lyons, Claire Molloy, Cliodhna Moloney, Heather O’Brien, Ciara O’Connor, Ruth O’Reilly, Lindsay Peat, Marie-Louise Reilly, Sophie Spence, Niamh Briggs, Eimear Considine, Mairead Coyne, Nicole Cronin, Jeamie Deacon, Katie Fitzhenry, Claire McLaughlin, Alison Miller, Larissa Muldoon, Jenny Murphy, Sene Naoupu, Nora Stapleton, Hannah Tyrrell.

Update: Out Niamh Briggs. In Louise Galvin.

Last 5 Form: 4 wins 1 loss

17-Mar-17 Ireland 7–34  England
11-Mar-17 Wales 7–12  Ireland
26-Feb-17 Ireland 13-10  France
12-Feb-17 Italy 3-27  Ireland
03-Feb-17 Scotland 15–22  Ireland

 

It’s been a topsy-turvey couple of seasons for Ireland Women’s Rugby as Performance Director David Nicofura and Women’s Rugby Director Anthony Eddie appear to be using the programme as a test ground for player development via Sevens Rugby participation. In it’self that’s no bad thing but, for Ireland Women’s XV’s coach Tom Tierney, it has often looked like a case of player development at the expense of the XV’s team .

Since 2014 Ireland XV have been leapfrogged by Canada and France in the World Rankings, though Ireland have left the USA and Australia in their wake after both virtually dropped their XV’s programme in favour of Sevens participation. However, with so few competitive matches in the Women’s international arena, outside of the Six Nations, the rankings are fairly meaningless.

Tierney did look to have found some stability in the last Six Nations, scrapping out wins against Scotland, Wales and France to add to a convincing victory over Italy, all based on a solid forward performance. However, as soon as grunt and grind was met in kind by the formidable English there was no plan B and the English romped home.

No doubt shocked by how quickly Ireland crumbled, in that St Patrick’s Day Grand Slam game, Ireland have again looked to the players rather than the team with Seven’s specialist’s Baxter, Cronin, Deacon, Fitzhenry and Galvin, joining, dual coders, Miller, Naoupu and Tyrrell in the squad at the expense of XV’s specialists.

Two narrow wins against Japan and a defeat against Spain in “closed door” warm ups tends to point to a continuing lack of strength in depth and/or team tactic’s but, having not witnessed the games, it’s somewhat spurious to draw a conclusion. How this team will perform is anyone’s guess.

However, unless Ireland have pulled something extraordinary out of the hat, few, bar the most patriotic of home support, expects anything more than a fourth place finish and, with what appears to be, only France standing in their way, few expect anything less. Three years of planning, ten times the investment, a full time Director of Women’s Rugby and a full time Women’s XV Coach does not yet appear to have built on a team that was challenging England, New Zealand and Canada last time around. Instead, current form sees Ireland and France will be battling it out in this group to see who’s the best of the rest.

Whether Ireland progress as group champions into the top four or in second place, and into the 5th – 8th play offs, will depend almost exclusively on how the pack performs. With the late return of Heather O’Brien to the squad, they are in a position to play six of the eight that beat New Zealand in the last World Cup and these six, with the addition of Lindsay Peat and Cliodhna Moloney (for Fiona Coghlan, and Gill Bourke respectively), will carry most of Ireland’s expectations on their shoulders.

There are four World class players in that pack, Reilly, Spence and Molloy being three. The fourth is our FRU Favourite Paula Fitzpatrick who surprisingly lost the captaincy after keeping Ireland on track through the last Six Nations. My main concern is that there is little experience below what would be my first choice pick and, as Ireland found out last time round, there is a fair chance they will be running on empty when they get to the business end of the tournament.

The FRU Predicts: 5th

Australia

World Ranking: 6

FRU Favourite: Mahalia Murphy

Squad: Millie Boyle, Chloe Butler, Cheyenne Campbell, Rebecca Clough, Mollie Gray, Grace Hamilton, Alisha Hewett, Evelyn Horomia, Kiri Lingman, Hana Ngaha, Shannon Parry, Liz Patu, Emily Robinson, Hilisha Samoa, Alexandra Sulusi, Violeta Tupuola, Katrina Barker, Fenella Hake, Ashleigh Hewson, Nareta Marsters, Mahalia Murphy, Trilleen Pomare, Sarah Riordan, Kayla Sauvao, Huia Swanell, Ashleigh Timoko, Samantha Treherne, Sharni Williams.

Last 5 Form: 5 losses

17-Jun-17 Australia 5–45  Canada
13-Jun-17 New Zealand 44–17  Australia
09-Jun-17 Australia 10–53  England
26-Oct-16 New Zealand 29–3  Australia
22-Oct-16 New Zealand 67–3  Australia

 

To tell the truth I don’t know much about this Australian side, but I’d guess there aren’t many people about that do. The Aussies have only played five games since the last World Cup and they lost all five. However those matches were against the three best teams in the World so there are few teams that would show a better return.

If you were being harsh, you could point to Australia as the prime example of the lack of depth in the Women’s International XV’s game. They have limited resources and few games, as their governing body concentrates it’s resources on the Sevens format, but here they are playing in the World Cup finals and they are ranked as 6th!

The Australian squad were the first to be announced and since that announcement they have remained pleasingly bullish about their chances, heaping barrow fulls of pressure on Ireland and France with their wonderful “come and beat us” attitude. They have had plenty of time to forge that “us against the World” attitude and let’s face it no one does it better than the Australians.

Surprisingly, they have only pulled in three of their Sevens superstars but those three, Sharni Williams, Shannon Parry and FRU Favourite Mahalia Murphy, are attacking players of the highest order. Parry will give their pack some much needed go forward and Williams and Murphy will cause most sides problems through the middle or out wide. I’m looking forward to seeing them play. My guess is they will start and end the tournament against Ireland!

The FRU Predicts: 6th

Japan

World Ranking:14

FRU Favourite: Riho Kurogi

Squad: Makoto Ebuchi, Mizuho Kataoka, Seina Saito, Ayano Sakurai, Yui Shiozaki, Yuki Sue, Ayaka Suzuki, Sayaka Suzuki, Misaki Suzuki, Maki Takano, Aya Nakajima, Ai Hyugaji, Maiko Fujimoto, Mateitoga Bogdraumanadave, Saki Minami, Aoi Mimura, Keiko Kato, Riho Kurogi, Mayu Shimizu, Ai Tasaka, Moe Tsukui, Honoka Tsutsumi, Makiko Tomita, Iroha Nagata, Yumeno Noda, Eriko Hirano, Wasana Fukushima, Minori Yamamoto.

Last 5 Form: 5 wins

15-Jul-17 Hong Kong 19–60  Japan
08-Jul-17 Japan 58–0  Hong Kong
11-Jun-17 Wales 10–52  Japan
17-Dec-16 Hong Kong 8–20  Japan
13-Dec-16 Japan 55–0  Fiji

 

Underestimate Japan at your peril, they may not be the most experienced side out there but they have a huge amount of determination and are backed by their union’s plentiful resources which enabled them to put together an impressive build up to this tournament.

They pushed Ireland very close, twice, and beat a young Wales side in their build up and though they lack a true physical edge they will be very well coached and will have studied their opponents play books relentlessly.

In FRU Favourite Riho Kurogi they have a genuine try scorer but I’m afraid that her chances will be limited in what will be a physical group. They are good enough to keep the other sides honest but I struggle to see where they are going to pick up a win. Unless …  🙂

The FRU Predicts: 11th

#SUFTUM