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Griggs' Ireland 'want to finish on a high' against Italy as bigger picture looms large

The Six Nations third-place play-off is set to be moved to Dublin.

Ireland head coach Adam Griggs.
Ireland head coach Adam Griggs.
Image: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

WHILE THERE’S PLENTY to look at in terms of the bigger picture, the immediate focus is Ireland’s final Six Nations showdown against Italy this weekend.

Though there’s been no official announcement, it’s looking like Donnybrook will host the fixture after a switch from Parma amidst new Covid-19 quarantine regulations.

Ireland head coach Adam Griggs believes confirmation could arrive later today, with the IRFU’s application in with Sport Ireland, though he “couldn’t be 100% on that”.

That said, the team are preparing as if it will be in Energia Park.

After Saturday’s sobering 56-15 defeat at the hands of semi-professional France, Ireland are eyeing a much-improved performance to make it two wins from three in this third-place play-off.

“Look, we’re targeting a victory,” Griggs said this afternoon. “We’ve looked at the last couple of games we’ve played against Italy, they beat us in their home patch and in October, we beat them.

The way we see this, it’s sets it up nicely [to see] what our standards are and what our level is going into the summer and into the World Cup qualifiers. Obviously they’ll be an opposition for us that we’ll have to come across.

“It’s a good weekend for us to really see where we’re at.”

A third-place finish would certainly mean a successful Six Nations campaign for Ireland, the New Zealander agrees, his side having beaten Wales 45-0 in Cardiff in their opener.

You’ve got to look at it and if we can manage to perform this weekend and get that third-place, we’ve won two from three games. Albeit France is a different kettle of fish, we know that performance-wise, that should lend itself to a result and you can’t ask for much more than two from three.”

When asked if he sees this weekend more importantly as a marker for the upcoming qualifiers rather than a third-place finish, Griggs believes they go “hand-in-hand”.

“We definitely want a performance and we believe that if we can perform as well as we know we can, we’ll get the result — and obviously that leaves a marker going into the summer. I think they go hand-in-hand at the moment. We’re excited by it and we want to make sure we finish on a high.”

It’s no surprise it’s Italy they’re facing, he says, the Azzuri setting up the showdown after their 21-point win over Scotland. “While they didn’t quite show on the scoreboard, they had some really bright patches in their game against a very strong England side,” he added on their heavy 67-3 defeat to the all-conquering Red Roses.

beibhinn-parsons-comes-up-against-laure-sansus-and-cyrielle-banet Ireland's Beibhinn Parsons coming up against Laure Sansus and Cyrielle Banet of France. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

With plenty of talk about the future in terms of World Cup qualifiers and so on, the bigger picture question is where are Ireland at and what is needed to bridge the gap with the likes of England and France and the unparalleled strides they have made of late.

Obviously investment is needed, and that’s tricky in the current climate, but talk has heightened of late about the need to examine the semi-professional option on these shores.

“Professionalism or semi-professionalism aside, you have to put it in context of where we’re at at the moment,” Griggs nods.

“When you look at someone like France, for example, and the way they have developed and same with England, their strengths have come from the grassroots and that domestic game. I think that’s still something that we, certainly in the IRFU, are getting — more participation leads to better quality, we’re seeing it knocks on to the performance side of things, where I’m at.

You can see with the interprovincial series, obviously before Covid, we were adding extra games. I think that’s really important to lead into a senior Test team. I think there’s certainly those structures there in place, we just need to keep building on those — whether we get to professionalism with this team, I think you’ve got to have that underbelly that supports it.”

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How long will it be until we see the fruits of that? Are we still a couple of years off?

Not long at all, is his general consensus.

“Well, I think if you look at some of the players that are coming through in our squad — the likes of Dorothy Wall, Beibhinn Parsons, Kathryn Dane, Enya Breen; these are players that have come through a structured pathway,” he concludes. “They’re the players that have started to really live it.

“It’s good to see them coming through, and being some of our strongest performers of late. I don’t think it’s far away and we’ve already got players that have come through it. It’s just, as I say, probably numbers on masses is another critical area to drive that.”

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Emma Duffy

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