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Irish Women arrive in Moscow as fearsome dark horses

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irbsevens.com and James Mortimer     25 Jun 2013     Getty Images

Lynne Cantwell is already Ireland's most-capped player in the 15-a-side game, and she has now started to make a real name for herself as a top quality Sevens player. Such has been their rapid progress this season, Ireland's women arrived in Moscow for the Rugby World Cup Sevens capable of causing a serious upset and going a long way in the tournament.

Rewind a few months and Cantwell was playing a vital role in Ireland's successful Six Nations campaign. Since then, all attention has been turned to the Sevens game as Cantwell and her teammates headed to tournaments in China and Hong Kong.

"It's been an interesting transition," admitted Cantwell. "I think the team found the first Sevens competitions in Hong Kong and China quite difficult physically as we were tired coming out of a very tough Six Nations and naturally didn't have the same level of Sevens fitness in the bank.

"Ironically, however, our defence was outstanding on the back of the 15s campaign as we had that incredible togetherness and die-for-each other mentality that we had built over the season. After that we had a chance to regroup, plan and set our goals in the build-up to the World Cup.

"Because the game of Sevens is so new to the squad, the transition from the full game naturally brings its challenges. Setting accurate goals at each stage has allowed the team to progress realistically and steadily with each week which has kept the motivation high throughout a long season."

Setting the bar high

Ireland have certainly found their feet quickly in Sevens. Winning the Plate title at the Chinese round of the World Series, where they also defeated the reigning World Champions Australia, shows that they should not be taken lightly in Moscow.

"We had about three months last year of preparing to attempt to qualify for the World Cup. We achieved this in the best form that we could in a short space of time but it was far off the standard we are capable of. I think on paper, we have made steady progress and winning three Plate titles in our past three competitions is not bad. We are not really measuring our progress on just that but these results are important for our confidence."

Ireland face Australia, South Africa and China in Moscow and are targeting a top-two pool finish in order to reach the Cup quarters.

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"We have the ability to finish in the top two in our group and that is what we aim to do. After this, I do believe we have the ability to turn over bigger teams so anything can happen. What our girls lack in Sevens experience they make up for in buckets of competitive rugby experience.

"We have a really tough and exciting pool of hugely varied playing styles in Australia, South Africa and China. As a rugby player, I enjoy watching how Australia play as they have a lot of fearless and exciting players who have so much to offer. They would be wrong to underestimate us as we proved you can't take your eye off the prize by beating them in China. South Africa and China are on a similar steep learning curve similar to ourselves."

Women's rugby thriving in Ireland

Ireland's most experienced player is also thrilled at the interest and growth of the game back home, especially since their success in the Six Nations.

"The effect has been absolutely incredible. There were young girls arriving at rugby clubs the week after the Grand Slam win asking how they could join. Parents now finally see that women's rugby is not a scary sport and now actively encourage their kids to go and try it.

"Ireland as a nation has fully embraced the story and achievement of the women's team. Irish people don't need much convincing to support their national sides and this support is invaluable and can only be a huge positive for growth and participation going forward.

Whatever happens in Moscow, there seems to be a positive story ahead for Irish women's rugby, including Sevens.

"We successfully bid for funding from the Irish Sports Council and the IRFU to fund the Olympic qualification pathway," added Cantwell. "At the moment the plans are being negotiated but it is hoped that the team will be involved in some form of grant system that facilitates a centralised or regionalised programme, which would be a huge boost for us."