Today marks one month to go until the eighth edition of Women's Rugby World Cup kicks off with the Pool B encounter between defending champions England and Spain at the UCD Bowl in Dublin.
The squads are now starting to be announced with World Cup winners, Six Nations Grand Slam winners and Olympic gold, silver and bronze medallists set to showcase women's rugby to the world from 9-26 August in Dublin and Belfast.
We caught up with WRWC 2017 Ambassador and former Ireland captain Fiona Coghlan, herself a veteran of three World Cups, to get her thoughts on the excitement that is building in the country, what it's like for players a month out from a tournament and the squads announced to date.
Fiona, with only a month to go the excitement levels are really start to increase not only in Ireland but around the world?
"Particularly now that the squads have been announced and there is more exposure around the world about who is going over to Ireland to compete. People will really start to get behind the teams more and you see it with more on social media. The Trophy Tour (pictured) has been phenomenal in Ireland for exposure and getting people behind the tournament. I think it gets that little bit real in UCD when they start to build the other stadium and stuff like that, so there is a lot going on."
You've been in this position before, a month out from a World Cup, what is it like for the players at this stage?
"The first thing is selection. You are nervous waiting for whatever way the selection is done, sometimes it is an email, sometimes it is a phone call. I’m sure if the girls know that if it is an email by a certain point they will be sitting by their computers waiting for the email to come through. I know for the last World Cup our focus was just on the USA game because it was the first game and they were such a huge threat for us, so I think every team will take a different approach to it, depending on what game is up first. I don’t think anyone would look too far beyond that first game, though, because that is kind of dangerous territory to get into writing someone off.
"It is very tough, for the management as well to juggle their team because you obviously can’t play the same team every game, you have to use your squad and squad depth is really important so it is a tough call for management to make on what players can play in what game and making sure you have players still fresh when it comes to the knockout stages, regardless of what position you are going for whether it be first, eighth or 12th.
"No matter where you are everyone is trying to improve their world ranking, everyone is trying to put their best foot forward and every game counts towards that and also every point counts because it could be points difference that determines if you get into the top four or the top eight. For every team, every game and every point is important. Sometimes I don’t think fans, when they are watching games, realise the importance of someone chasing down a try or something like that because every point counts. When it comes to the third game you know where teams stand and what they have to do to get to a certain point and it makes things really exciting."
Have any of the squads that have already been announced caught your eye?
"I suppose it is tough in the women’s game in that we don’t see a lot of some countries. It was brilliant to have the summer series to see the likes of New Zealand, England, Canada and Australia play. I wouldn’t be that familiar with Australia at all. I think the big three (England, New Zealand and Canada) have gone for really balanced squads, they have got great experience and youth coming through so that is what you want going into a World Cup. You want that experience because they know what World Cups are like, but you also want that youth to give something fresh as well.
"I don’t think there have been any major surprises with regards the teams that I know. Honey Hireme isn’t there in the New Zealand squad, but they have such depth and there is always competition for places. It’s great to see Carla Hohepa back into the game, she’s been away a while. I am obviously going to be interested in the Irish squad. The French squad is missing (Christelle) Le Duff, I don’t know if she is injured or not. I think she would be a big loss for the experience she brings to the game because I remember playing her in the third place play-off and she came on at half-time for an injury and made a difference in the game. I think she is a big loss for France for whatever reason she is not there."
When the Ireland squad is announced in a couple of weeks that is presumably going to ratchet up the local interest even more?
"I suppose it brings it back down to the club first of all because obviously the clubs are going to be hugely proud of their players selected. Then you are looking at the provinces and then you are looking at Ireland getting behind the team and the players that they know and have become familiar with as a result of games being on TV during the Six Nations so there is a familiarity with a certain number of players in Ireland and what they are capable of producing. It is that next step of engagement for people in that they know the squad that is going to represent Ireland."
The Trophy Tour has been making its way across the island of Ireland for nearly four months now, have you been surprised at all by the level of excitement it has generated?
"I haven’t actually been surprised by the engagement of the Irish public, I always thought they would get behind it. The miles it has covered and the actual amount of places the trophy has gotten to has been phenomenal and it is a credit to the people involved in the Trophy Tour, but also the ideas of the ambassadors of bringing in the community. It didn’t matter if they were rugby people or not, to bring the community into the whole tournament and getting them involved it has taken a step outside the rugby family I suppose and just broadened it out to a whole new set of fans. People do now see that rugby is a viable option for women and it can be a sport of choice and hopefully the numbers will start to rise. We have already seen a rise in numbers over the last couple of years and hopefully that will continue to grow."
And finally, what message would you have for someone who perhaps hasn’t bought their ticket yet?
"Well, the pool stages are sold out for the UCD Bowl and Billings Park is nearly sold as well, but there are still tickets available for the semi-finals and finals up at Kingspan which is a brilliant stadium. The Irish team are going to play there regardless of whether they are in the semi-finals or finals, but the quality of the other games at that stage will be huge as well. The fact you are getting three games for one ticket is brilliant. I think it is really accessible to people and if you can’t get a ticket you can watch it on TV, but there are still tickets available for the semi-finals and finals so get on board and support what is going to be a great competition."