Ryan Byrne/INPHO Dannah O'Brien pictured in Ireland training last week.
clean slate

'I really would love for the obvious evolution to be visible for people'

Ireland head coach Greg McWilliams on the evolution of his squad and prioritising squad depth.

GREG MCWILLIAMS’ EXPECTATIONS and hopes for Saturday’s first Test on Ireland’s historic tour to Japan?

“That we have a group of players that go out and express themselves and realise that, as a coaching group, we really want to encourage them to be able to test their abilities and test their understanding of the game,” the head coach answers.

“Honestly, you always want to win a game. But like I always talk about, we don’t focus on the result, that’s a byproduct of us getting our detail right.

“My biggest hope is that anybody who’s watching back in Ireland looks at a group that are evolving, there’s a clear direction we’re travelling in. You’re hoping that your scrum’s improving, and the work that Fogs [Denis Fogarty] is doing is going to come through on that performance. And same with John McKee in the line-out.

“If we look after all those bits and we can get a couple of young girls that can show that they belong on the international stage, that will be a massive bonus for us.”

Evolution and squad depth are two things McWilliams keeps coming back to on his team announcement press conference call.

Four uncapped players have been named to start on Saturday [KO 11am Irish time, TG4], with Dannah O’Brien, Méabh Deely, Natasja Behan and Aoife Dalton combining in a new-look backline, with Taryn Schutzler and Leah Tarpey the uncapped replacements.

Some of these, including O’Brien, whom McWilliams reserved special praise for, completed their Leaving Certificate this summer, underlining the youth being blooded.

“I just can’t wait to see these young girls play, but I also can’t wait to see the more established players that have worked really hard since the Six Nations.

“Because we’ve got to evolve into how we’re playing and I’m hoping that when you’re sitting down and you’re watching our performance, that you can see very clearly that there’s an evolution in how we’re going about our business. That’s what I pray and hope for, that would really excite me if people at home can get a sense of that.”

All reports coming from camp are extremely positive: “Settling in like a house on fire,” adjusting to the heat and humidity and enjoying the culture, with last night’s first squad meal out — there were no shortage of gyozas sampled — a roaring success.

The on-field work has been incredibly progressive too, by all accounts, with several players citing some of the toughest training sessions and conditions they’ve ever encountered.

What’s the most important thing to leave Japan having achieved, McWilliams is asked?

“That’s a great question. You’d love to come away with a winning series. I’d say if you were a bookie, I’m not sure how great those odds would be now, when you’re playing against a team that are in a different timeline towards prepping for a World Cup.

“It means the age profile of their players is a lot higher than ours. I’d say a lot of players will probably call it a day post Rugby World Cup, like we see after a lot of Rugby World Cups. My hope is that this group now, once the World Cup is finished, we’ll all still be together, going through to next year’s Six Nations.

“I really would love for the obvious evolution to be visible for people that follow the game, to see that they’re giving that extra pass, or the work around the breakdown is tighter and better, our defence and our understanding is getting there. And I think if we get those details right, and we stay in the fight for the game, remember under the conditions, it’s not going to be easy for us, we’re going to learn a lot, a huge amount, but probably number one priority for me is always going to be our depth of players going into next year’s Six Nations.

“The deeper that our player pool gets and the more quality we have there and the more competitive selection comes, well then players have to work hard to earn that spot and then you’ve got real competition for places. So you’re improving everybody’s standard from their weight training to their tactical and technical understanding. And I think that’s really important, that we build a really competitive group of players that are going to fight for positions come next year’s Six Nations.”

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