Stacey Flood watched from afar as hosts Ireland failed to make the kind of impact on the field that they would have liked at the last Rugby World Cup in 2017 in finishing eighth out of 12.

Not only was the Dubliner not involved in 15s at the time, but she also couldn’t have been further away from the tournament despite it being played on her doorstep.

“I watched every single game from that World Cup. At the time I was actually in Australia playing on the Aon Sevens Series for Bond University so I was up in the middle of the night,” she recalls.

Flood continued competing in sevens, including at Rugby World Cup Sevens 2018 in San Francisco, until the COVID-19 pandemic brought a halt to the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series.

That led to the 25-year-old and a number of other sevens players trying their hand at 15s.

Flood, who has a GAA background, first trained with the 15s squad last October and already finds herself as one of the fulcrum’s of Ireland’s bid to qualify for Rugby World Cup 2021 in New Zealand.

Instead of watching the tournament on the other side of the world, Flood hopes to be in the thick of the action. But first Ireland need to get there.

Big strides

Adam Griggs’ side are one of four teams taking part in the RWC 2021 Europe Qualifier that begins in Parma, Italy on Monday.

The round-robin tournament also involves Women’s Six Nations rivals, Italy and Scotland, as well as Ireland’s opening round opponents Spain.

Whoever finishes top of the table will book their place in Pool B alongside Canada and USA at next year’s tournament with the runner-up having to take their chance in the Final Qualification Tournament.

Having beaten both Italy and Scotland on their way to finishing third in the most recent edition of the Women’s Six Nations, Ireland will arguably go to Parma as favourites to claim the Europe 1 ticket.

“It is massively important,” Flood says of qualification.

“The women’s game has taken such big strides in the last few years and all the teams are getting better and people are moving forward and we don’t want to be left behind and I don’t think we will be left behind.

“I think the team have really put in the work in the last few weeks, building on the Six Nations.

“This is the tournament we have been looking forward to for the last 18 months, because it was postponed from last year, and we have always kept one eye on the prize and what boxes we need to tick to get there.

“I have full faith in the whole squad, the training squad, the wider squad and the management, that we have done enough and hopefully we can take home that prize and be on that plane next year.”

Seamless transition

Flood is only five months into her test career, having made her debut in April. Not that you would know it.

Looking every bit at ease in the green jersey as her 10-times capped elder  sister Kim once did at full-back, Flood followed up a couple of appearances off the bench in the Women’s Six Nations with a Player of the Match performance against Italy.

Modestly, Flood says she is just happy to be a facilitator for the team.

“For me, I feel like if the team is going well, that is all that kind of matters. I wasn’t fully satisfied with my individual performance,” she says.

“When I was talking to family and friends afterwards, I said ‘I don’t think I really deserved it’.

“My player of the game was (hooker) Cliodhna Moloney, she had an outstanding defensive game and she got her try as well so I was not expecting that whatsoever.”

The award could also have easily gone to another of the sevens newcomers, Amee-Leigh Murphy Crowe, who marked her first start on the wing with a couple of tries.

“That is nothing to her, she knows her way to the try line, that girl. She is such a spark in the team and is one of those players who can change a game,” Flood says of her jet-heeled teammate.

Flood and Murphy Crowe will be joined by their sevens captain, Lucy Mulhall, in flying to Parma for the Europe Qualifier.

Mulhall is one of three uncapped players in the squad but Flood says she has taken to 15s “like a duck to water.”

Bossing the game

While most sevens converts play on the wing in 15s, Flood is more than happy to be directing affairs at 10.

“I kind of always knew I wanted to be a 10 and I felt my skillset was for that position. I kind of like bossing people around and passing is my favourite skill.

“It’s hard because you have to learn the tactical element of 15s and knowing where your back field is, knowing what you want to play and where on the field.

“Coming from sevens, I have played it for so many years and it is kind of my first love, and then transitioning over to 15s, it’s like a completely different game. I actually think they are two separate sports.

“But I have had so much support from all the girls and the coaches, and they have helped me so much to understand.

“Kim (her sister) gives me so much advice and is so helpful. She says play your own game and don’t worry about this that and the other. I turn to her a lot, for anything.”

Ireland fly out to Parma on Friday as they prepare for a tension-filled 12 days. Despite the magnitude of the prize at stake, Ireland will be able to count on a cool head in Flood.

“There’s nothing like a bit of pressure, I just love it,” she says. “If you embrace it, the feeling if it comes off and you do what you need to do, is such a good feeling, and to do it with a bunch of girls who are all fighting for the same thing, you wouldn’t get that from anything else.”

Family matters

Emotions will certainly be running high by the time Ireland get to their last game against Scotland on 25 September.

What will make it all the more special for Flood is that her parents will be there in person.

“Hopefully my mam and dad and sisters (she has three) are going to come to the last game, they’ve never seen me play 15s before.

“The last time my mam saw me play was at the Sevens World Cup in San Francisco and I think the last time my dad saw me play was in 2016.

“It will be so weird to have people there watching because it is not something that normally happens for us, because sevens tournaments are always over the world and my dad doesn’t really like flying and it is hard to get time off work. Because it is in Italy, they can cope with that.”

Expect a flood of tears if qualification is sealed.

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