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How Ciara Griffin's last game for Ireland typified her never-say-die brilliance

The Kerry woman signed off with a sublime two-try performance last month.

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WITH IRELAND TRAILING 12-3 at half-time and down to 14 players after a red card for back row Hannah O’Connor, it was all looking very grim against Japan last month.

And then captain Ciara Griffin did what she has done for the past six years as an Ireland international, grabbing the game by the scruff of the neck and hauling it back towards her team to help them to complete a 15-12 comeback victory.

Griffin’s name has been more commonly associated with the off-the-pitch stories surrounding women’s rugby in recent times.

The build-up to last month’s Japan game saw the Kerry woman dealing with questions about IRFU director of women’s rugby Anthony Eddy’s controversial media briefing and the fallout that followed.

Griffin was also among the most notable names to sign the letter that 62 current and former Irish women’s rugby players sent to the government asking for intervention with the IRFU.

Perhaps that all tells us a little more about why Griffin has retired from Ireland duty at the age of just 27.

But none of it should mask the fact that Griffin’s contribution on the pitch for Ireland has been immense. Despite the challenges of recent years and the lack of success for this Irish team, Griffin has been a consistently brilliant player for her country.

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Her 41st and final Ireland cap saw Griffin departing on a high as she dragged her team to a comeback win.

Two second-half tries from Griffin were crucial to Ireland’s victory and while they weren’t spectacular, they did typify the Kerry woman’s determined approach.

The first was a blockdown effort soon after half-time, as Griffin burst off the defensive line, got her body in front of the Japanese kick, and followed up to pounce on the bouncing ball.

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Clearly, it’s poor play from Japan here but Griffin’s efforts deserve major credit. She has always been a battling, abrasive player and her try is deserved as she targets Kanako Kobayashi’s left foot to make the blockdown.

Griffin’s defensive work in this game was phenomenal as she hassled and harried Japan, completing 21 tackles at a 100% success rate. 

From early in the game, the UL Bohs back row was making dominant defensive impacts.

Note below how Griffin communicates with those around her as she sets up in defence. First, she calls on openside flanker Edel McMahon to get wider in the defensive line so they can bring linespeed…

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Griffin then swivels her head to the outside, communicating with the defenders there as well as getting another scan of the Japan attack…

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With Ireland in ideal defensive shape, they can bring linespeed and Griffin combines with McMahon to rock Japan flanker Misaki Suzuki in the tackle.

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As we can see above, Griffin pops straight back up onto her feet post-tackle to ensure Ireland have another player in the line.

Griffin’s defensive aggression never dimmed for the remainder of the game.

Watch below how Griffin’s fight in the tackle opens an opportunity for hooker Neve Jones to make a breakdown turnover.

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As we can see above, Griffin wraps up Japan centre Mana Furuta and battles to strip the ball clear of her. 

The two immediate Japanese support players have to deal with the threat of Griffin, leaving Furuta suddenly isolated when she gets to ground. Jones is able to swoop in and force the turnover…

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Of course, it wouldn’t be an Ireland game without Griffin directly earning a breakdown turnover of her own. 

As ever, she was a determined presence at the opposition breakdown, arriving at eight Japanese rucks.

The turnover moment came in the 68th minute as Griffin completed a tackle on Japan replacement lock Saki Minami and instantly reloaded onto her feet to target the ball.

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In truth, it’s difficult to see a clear release from Griffin between tackle and jackal, but referee Clara Munarini is in close proximity to the breakdown and she is content with Griffin’s actions.

Like any combative jackal, Griffin regularly lives right on the borderline of legality around the breakdown, pushing match officials to make tough decisions. Here, she gets the call to earn Ireland an important turnover.

Ireland had to withstand heavy pressure from Japan in the endgame and Griffin’s relentlessness was to the fore as they clung on. The sequence below speaks volumes for her work-rate.

First, Griffin makes a good read of a tip-on pass to dominate opposite number Seina Saito in the tackle.

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Watch below how Griffin instantly gets back onto her feet and drives in on the counter-ruck, forcing a Japanese foot to dislodge the ball backwards out of the breakdown.

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And Griffin’s remarkable repeat efforts conclude with another smothering tackle on Koboyashi.

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This sequence is so typical of Griffin, whose appetite for making life difficult for the attack is simply voracious.

With Ireland soon defending close to their tryline in the 75th minute, it was unsurprising to see Griffin making dominant impacts like the one below.

Saito picks to carry at the fringe of the ruck but Griffin envelopes her and drives back upfield, with Shannon Touhey following her captain into the contest to help Ireland win back crucial inches.

Dominate

Griffin has long thrived in this kind of trench warfare and her efforts in this instance stunt the Japanese momentum. Two phases later, they give up a penalty to allow Ireland to clear.

It was no surprise to see Griffin on the scene as Cliodhna Moloney secured the game-sealing breakdown turnover for Ireland in the 82nd minute. 

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As we can see above, Griffin has bound onto the jackaling Moloney, anchoring her into place and giving the hooker extra stability as she earns the crucial penalty for Ireland.

It’s a somewhat fitting last act for Griffin in Test rugby. She’s not the one directly earning the credit but she is facilitating a team-mate in making a big play.

Ireland’s celebrations at the final whistle spoke volumes for how Griffin’s team-mates view her, as they lofted her onto their shoulders following the two-try performance.

The second Griffin score came in the 55th minute, with the flanker providing the first and final carries in the attacking passage.

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Griffin shows power and grit to win this collision against two Japanese forwards on first phase of Ireland’s attack from a lineout on the right.

Her work on the ground ensures scrum-half Kathryn Dane has clean ball to whip away, with Aoife McDermott and Linda Djougang continuing the momentum before Griffin gets back onto the ball to finish.

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Griffin arrives at the ruck and takes control of the situation, pushing McMahon to the right of the ball and into the inside latch position – McMahony pre-binding onto Griffin from the inside.

Just as Griffin scoops the ball up to carry, Moloney arrives on her left but is careful not to pre-bind, which would have been grounds for a Japanese penalty.

Griffin drives low into the carry and tucks the ball into her right arm, leaving her left arm free to fend into the tackle from Iroha Nagata – driving the Japanese defender’s right arm away as she looks to wrap.

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Again, there isn’t a huge amount of glamour here but Griffin wins the crucial inches for her team in both carries.

Her work on the ball in this game was consistently impressive as Griffin made 10 carries for 50 metres, breaking four tackles.

In the example below, Griffin identifies the two Japanese halfbacks at the fringe of the ruck and batters through them with a latch from McMahon.

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Griffin also made four passes in this game, demonstrating her underrated handling skills and showing the variety to her armoury.

Even when she wasn’t on the ball, Griffin was having an impact on Ireland’s attack.

No Irish player arrived at more attacking rucks than Griffin with 26. 

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Above, we see Griffin removing a turnover threat to ensure Ireland have clean ball to attack with.

This kind of largely unnoticed but always important contribution from Griffin is what her impact with Ireland has been all about.

A relentless work-rate, never-say-die attitude, rounded skillset, and leadership by example make her one of Ireland’s greats.

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About the author:

Murray Kinsella

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