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'I'm not your normal front row in terms of size': Nic a Bhaird punching above her weight on return to 15s

The Cork woman has represented Ireland on the Sevens stage these past two years, but is enjoying a debut run in the Six Nations.

THERE WAS NO time for Deirbhile nic a Bhaird to to dwell on any nerves that might have spiked ahead of her 15-a-side international debut last month.

The Ballincollig woman had barely touched down back in Ireland after helping Ireland Sevens to their best-ever finish to a World Series event with fourth place in Sydney, when it was off to Glasgow with Adam Griggs’ side.

Deirbhile Nic A Bhaird Deirbhile Nic A Bhaird at Ireland's team hotel this week. Source: Gary Carr/INPHO

She didn’t even have time to pack her guitar before taking up the replacement hooker berth, but that excuse wasn’t enough to escape from team-mates’ demands of ‘Walking on Sunshine’ for her first cap singing duty.

“I’m not necessarily your normal front row, in terms of size,” says the 5′ 4″ 23-year-old. But there’s never a point when you get the impression that Nic a Bhaird balks at the need to punch above her weight.

Since making her way into Ireland Sevens setup two years ago, she has been frequently referred to as a former MMA fighter. Though it’s not entirely true.

“My mum’s never too pleased when commentators call me ‘the MMA fighter’, but there is a little bit of truth to it,” says Nic a Bhaird.

“I never actually competed in MMA, but I was training, boxing and doing Jiu-Jitsu from a gym in Cork.”

A mix of martial arts then, if not mixed martial arts. Either way, the fights gave her a strong grounding in grappling after first discovering a relish for contact sports when playing alongside the boys with Highfield RFC up to under 14 level.

“Jiu-Jitsu would have been helpful coming back in and helping with the tackling side of things, toughens you up a bit as well.

“That would all be my favourite part, I love the contact areas of the game, rucking and all that sort of stuff. Coming from that background of different sports helped me as well.”

Deirbhile Nic a Bhaird with Leah Lyons Nic A Bhaird during her international debut, with Leah Lyons. Source: Craig Watson/INPHO

She will win her first 15-a-side international start against France tomorrow in Donnybrook as a hooker but when she took on women’s rugby at 18 with Highfield and went on to UL, Nic a Bhaird was a wing. Long before Eddie Jones was flying a kite for Jack Nowell to move from the back three to the front row, Nic a Bhaird was making the move of her own accord.

The Cork woman first lined out at hooker with UL Bohs, and then tasted tasted the higher standard of club rugby in England with Harlequins, where she was deployed both in the front row and the back. Her tenacity in the tackle could not be ignored.

“I wouldn’t really be the quickest, so maybe the wing wasn’t meant for me. But I try to make up for it with the bit of strength I have and I’m normally able to compete.

“I’m not the heaviest front row, so maybe through work-rate, and from Sevens I can bring in a bit more pace and add to the attacking threat.”

One aspect which is not transferable from Sevens, however, is scrummaging.

Fortunately, Ireland Women have the keen technical eye and experience of Mike Ross at their disposal. And while the prospect of a session under his watch did bring some nerves bubbling to the surface for Nic a Bhaird, Ross’ manner tends to keep everyone on an even keel as the retired tighthead never exactly lets his enthusiasm for the game override his message.

“I got almost a compliment from him at the weekend, he said he ‘didn’t notice me doing anything wrong anyway,’” she jokes.

“So I suppose it’s better than standing out for being problematic. But he is very, very helpful. Even outside the scrum, the work he does to make us more efficient around the park and understand the different roles. He’s a good voice to have in the team.” 


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Deirbhile Nic a Bhaird and Jill Draper Nic A Bhaird in action for Munster before her switch to Sevens. Source: Cathal Noonan/INPHO

Though France are a formidable outfit, the Old Belvedere player is confident Ireland give more than as good as they get at set-piece when they come face to face in Donnybrook on Saturday evening (kick-off 7pm).

They’re a bigger pack unit than we are, but we’ve shown in matches against big sides…  England were definitely bigger than us by weight and we had very positive moments against them in the scrum.

“Italy were probably bigger than us as well. We weren’t consistently dominant, but we showed moments where we could dominate them.

“So against France, we’ll be looking to have the same mentality; our set-piece will be our bread and butter, we’ll show that’s part of what Ireland’s all about.”

Andy Dunne joins Murray Kinsella and Ryan Bailey to discuss Joe Schmidt’s undroppables and how France might attack Ireland’s predictability in The42 Rugby Weekly.

Source: The42 Rugby Weekly/SoundCloud

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Sean Farrell

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