Development & Alumni Relations Office 


11 August 2017

Two Queen's graduates – medic Claire McLaughlin and aerospace engineer Ashleigh Baxter – are in the Ireland squad for the 8th Women's Rugby World Cup (WRWC) 2017 which started with a hard fought win for the host nation against Australia on 9 August.

Openside flanker Baxter (pictured left), who now plays for Cooke and Ulster, has risen through the ranks since playing tag rugby as a youngster at Down High School in Downpatrick. She joined Belfast Harlequins when she was aged 18 since when her athleticism, speed and high work-rate have helped her progress to the senior levels.   

A Queen's aerospace engineering graduate, Ashleigh’s first appearance for Ulster and Ireland came in 2012. She followed this up by playing on the right wing during the 2013 Grand Slam. That same year she picked up the ‘All Ireland League Player of the Year’ title at the IRFU Ulster Branch Women’s Rugby Awards.

The youngest member of Ireland’s squad (aged 22) for the WRWC finals when they were held in France in 2014, Ashleigh had the added responsibility of looking after team mascot 'Seamus' during that tournament.

At just over 5' 4'' Ashleigh, who hails from Castlewellan in County Down, is one of the shorter players in the Irish squad but one of the strongest, at 9 stone 10lbs.

The 2016 World Cup Sevens player made a solid start in Ireland’s narrow 19-17 win over Australia in Dublin this week and will hope to be in the team for the remaining pool games against Japan and France.

Speaking ahead of the WRWC finals to the Belfast Telegraph, Ashleigh admitted to being just as nervous ahead of this, her second World Cup, as she was three years ago. "I'm definitely apprehensive” she said. “The fact that we did well (in 2014) puts more pressure on us this time to do it again.

"I'm in a new position, on the back row, which is another challenge, and we've a lot to do to get out of your group – we've to play France, who have beaten us before, and Australia and Japan, too.”

With Queen’s University and the Kingspan hosting games in the latter stages of the competition, Ashleigh and fellow Ulster player Claire McLaughlin will certainly want to be lining out for Ireland in the closing stages of the WRWC in Belfast at the end of the month.   

Back row medical alumna Claire McLaughlin (pictured right), the second of only two Ulster players in the Ireland squad, puts her love of rugby down to the physical challenges it presents. In a recent interview with Queen’s Sport Claire said: “I was always a big rugby fan, and loved watching Ulster and Ireland play. I was involved in a lot of sports throughout school, and when the opportunity to play tag rugby came up, I jumped at it!

“I think it was the challenge of trying something new and the physicality of rugby that attracted me to it. I would have been known for being quite aggressive in hockey and football, which sometimes got me into bother, so in that aspect, rugby suited me perfectly!”

Claire played tag rugby at Coleraine High School and joined Ballymoney RC before coming to Queen’s to study medicine. She progressed with both Cooke RFC and Queen's to All-Ireland League level, winning her first Ulster Women's cap in 2011.

Currently juggling rugby and work requirements – she is in foundation year one as a doctor in the Mater Hospital in Belfast – Claire told Queen’s Sport that trying to balance the demands of a busy career and a hectic sporting life wasn’t always easy.  

“Honestly, it’s been a constant struggle trying to juggle working as an F1 doctor and training for the WRWC; I thought it was difficult trying to combine doing finals with training for the Six Nations, but that doesn’t even compare to this past year!!

“I think that starting work as a doctor is a challenge no matter what, and a lot of my colleagues think I’m crazy with all the training I do each week.”

Ireland will play Japan on Sunday 13th August (kick-off 5:15pm), with their final Pool C match against Six Nations rivals France four days later on Thursday 17th (starting at 7.45pm), with both games being held at the University College Dublin (UCD) Bowl.

In all, twelve teams are playing in this year’s WRWC, with the three pool winners and the best second-placed team going through to the knockout stages semi-finals. Full details of the knockout games to be played at Queen’s can be found online.

To support the Jack Kyle Rugby Academy at Queen’s visit the Development and Alumni Relations website or contact Meaghan Lyons, Regular Giving Manager, tel: +44 (0)28 9097 3928.

General inquiries to Gerry Power, Communications Officer, Development and Alumni Relations Office; tel: +44 (0)28 9097 5321.


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