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'We've got warning on that and we know the procedure, we know the protocol'

Ireland Women captain Ciara Griffin says movement between the 7s and 15s squads has been flagged in advance.

LAST YEAR’S SIX Nations brought fine results for Ireland Women on the pitch, with four wins before they were beaten by England in the decider, but that championship was when the off-field drama began.

In the build-up to the clash with France in Dublin, Sene Naoupu, Alison Miller and Hannah Tyrrell were pulled from Six Nations duty to travel to Las Vegas with the sevens set-up.

Jeamie Deacon dejected Ireland's World Cup on home soil was deeply disappointing. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

While Ireland actually beat the French the following weekend, the discontent had been sown, both among supporters and within the 15s playing group.

Since Anthony Eddy took over as the IRFU’s director of sevens and women’s rugby in 2014, the union has looked to balance its available playing talent between 15s and the sevens game, but this move came as a surprise even to many of the players.

It raised questions about how seriously the IRFU was taking the 15s’ preparation for a home World Cup in 2017, a tournament which proved to be a crushing disappointment for Ireland.

While women’s rugby in Ireland remains a balancing act, with players flowing between sevens and 15s, the communication this year has been clear and delivered well in advance. An important improvement.

“Yes, we’ve got warning on that and we know the procedure, we know the protocol,” says Ireland XVs captain Ciara Griffin when asked if this year’s Six Nations squad know when and where players will be coming and going.

“There’s going to be no surprises and we’re not going to be thrown, so that’s good.”

As Griffin and her team-mates prepare for next weekend’s Six Nations opener against France, seven of their 38-woman squad are away in Australia for the Sydney Sevens, but Griffin and her team-mates are happy.

“We just play with the team we have,” says 24-year-old Griffin. “The girls we have are doing an excellent job and there’s a nice team spirit there, so we’re focusing on that.”

Ciara Griffin evades the tackle of Alisha Butchers 21/1/2018 Griffin makes a carry against Wales last weekend. Source: CameraSport/Ashley Crowden/INPHO

Indeed, Ireland got their season off to a flying start with a 27-19 win over Wales last weekend, with Niamh Briggs making a welcome return from a long-term hamstring injury.

Briggs was absent from the home World Cup last summer due to that injury, Ireland missing her experience, kicking quality and general control.

Formerly Ireland’s fullback, Briggs is now among the options to play at out-half under new head coach Adam Griggs, who has replaced Tom Tierney.

While Briggs will be one of the experienced heads in the group, previous stalwarts Nora Stapleton, Marie Louise Reilly and Ailis Egan have retired and Sophie Spence has followed them after being left out of the Six Nations squad.

Though there has been a changeover from the World Cup, with nine new faces coming in, Griffin feels Ireland have learned important lessons from their underperformance on home soil last year.

“A lot of players from that World Cup are now retired or gone from the squad, but something we learned was unity and being solid, supporting each other in tough times,” says the Kerry woman.

“We learned a lot about that and being there for each other. It’s something that’s going to be important going into this Six Nations.

“It’s about chatting and talking to each other in camps, asking the questions and looking after each other on the pitch as well.”

Griffin name-checks backs Michelle Claffey and Megan Williams as two of the new faces who are putting their hands up for selection in this Six Nations, while she says the versatile Nichola Fryday – who had already been capped – is one of those stepping up in the forwards.

Some of the rugby Ireland played against Wales last weekend has given them real confidence, with a try from inside their own half featuring Briggs, fullback Kim Flood, wing Ali Miller, scrum-half Ailsa Hughes, before Claire McLaughlin’s finish, standing out.

That score was a direct result of their refreshed training methods under new head coach Griggs.

“Adam has been very good at backing us to make decisions and play what’s in front of us,” says former Castleisland RFC back row Griffin. “That’s been exciting and he’s very good at clarifying anything you might ask about.”

Griggs has proven to be a very popular appointment among the playing squad, particularly given that the former Tasman Makos and Leinster ‘A’ scrum-half has such a strong recent playing history himself.

Furthermore, Griggs’ spell as head coach of the Leinster Women means he has an appreciation for what is needed in the women’s game.

So even though the IRFU created major controversy and more discontent by advertising the head coaching position as a part-time role on a six-month contract after Tierney’s departure, the players are happy with how things have worked out.

“Adam takes his job very professionally and he’s almost full-time, even if the job says it’s part-time,” says Griffin. “We’re professionals at the weekend, with full-time training, and we take a professional approach to our training.

Ciara Griffin Griffin will look to lead by example. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

“Adam is exactly the same – he’s doing his analysis, he’s planning sessions. Although it might say it’s six months, it’s a full-time job.”

“Adam knows the women’s game, he knows what’s required, what’s needed and what’s looked for, how far he can push us. It’s definitely been an advantage.”

Despite the negativity of last year’s World Cup, Griffin is enthusiastic about the future of women’s rugby in Ireland.

“You see a lot more girls taking up rugby and you have the likes of Aldi getting behind the programmes.”

And now installed as Ireland captain after just 17 caps, the back row wants to set an example for her team as they look to get Irish women’s rugby back on the front foot.

“It’s a brilliant honour,” says Griffin of being named captain. “It’s been a dream to play in the green jersey and represent this jersey, but to be asked to captain such an amazing bunch of girls is out of this world.

“To be honest, I’m not changing much. I’m a person of few words, I speak when I have to speak but I lead by example.

“I go out and play my heart out and I wouldn’t expect girls to do anything I wouldn’t do on the pitch. It’s about leading from the front and that’s what I plan to do.”

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Murray Kinsella

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