World Cup qualification 'changes a lot' for Ireland

Ireland coach Scott Bemand believes his side's qualification for the World Cup can have a huge impact on the game in the country.

Their third-place finish in the Women's Six Nations, secured by beating Scotland in Belfast on Saturday, ensured passage to the tournament in England next year.

Having missed out on qualification last time around, Ireland have not featured in a World Cup since finishing eighth on home soil in 2017.

"It changes a lot of things," said Bemand.

"There’s a lot of these girls have never been to a World Cup. There’s a lot of supporters out there that are now taking an interest in the game, that have never been able to support Irish women in a World Cup."

Ireland started the day in fifth but their gritty win over Scotland, as well as Italy's loss to Wales in Cardiff earlier in the day, saw them finish in third for the first time since 2020.

The two-win campaign ensured not only World Cup qualification, but also promotion to the top tier of the WXV competition.

Bemand knows his side will have to improve for the step up in quality of opposition, but sees real potential for growth in his squad.

"There’s some bits we need to tidy up on, of course," he said.

"We need to keep growing our game and the game doesn’t sit still long.

"You can’t just base it on trying to kick people into a corner and get what you get out of that, but there’s so much potential within the group."

After this win was played in front of a crowd of 7,468 - a record for a standalone Women's Six Nations fixture on the island of Ireland - Bemand sees next year's World Cup as a huge opportunity.

"We’re seeing it with crowds, they’ve grown," he said. "We’ve had three home games [in this year's Six Nations], they’ve grown, grown three times.

"We’ve got an amazing opportunity now for these girls to show the influence they can have on the younger generations and people playing rugby.”

Ireland had trailed 5-0 at a half time but took their first lead in the 73rd minute thanks to tries from Katie Corrigan and Cliodhna Moloney, the latter of which was converted, and a penalty from Dannah O'Brien.

With the score at 15-12, and a draw good enough for Scotland to seal third and their World Cup place, the visitors were awarded a last-minute penalty when Beibhinn Parsons was yellow carded for a deliberate knock-on.

Rather than attempt a shot at the posts to secure the draw, Scotland went for the corner and were turned over.

"The position of the penalty was the reason there, that was it," said Scottish captain Rachel Malcolm of the decision.

"It was what we discussed in terms of gameplan going in. It's a decision that's not just on my shoulders, it's one we take as a leadership group.

"It was a decision we made in the moment and I back that."

Scotland coach Bryan Easson added: "You can look at little things but we weren't accurate enough in certain areas of the game and that's the thing that disappoints us more than anything."

Scotland will have another chance to secure World Cup qualification through the WXV, where they will again be in the second tier, to be played in Cape Town in the autumn.

"We'll reflect, we'll review as we always do," said Easson.

"It's always the frustration in the last week of the Six Nations that you've not got next week. It's about learning, moving forward.

"These guys will have a week off next week and then go back to their clubs and be back to performing as best as they can.

"We'll come back together, we'll right some wrongs, and we'll keep improving.

"We'll go to Cape Town and make sure we qualify for the World Cup."