Laszlo Geczo/INPHO Ireland coach Greg McWilliams.
reflections on an ending
Mixed emotions for McWilliams as Ireland's Six Nations campaign ends with dramatic Scotland win
Ireland avoided the wooden spoon with a last-gasp victory over Scotland.

WHEN YOU TAKE a step back and examine the game in its full context, it comes as little surprise to discover that Ireland women’s head coach Greg McWilliams was left with a mixture of emotions in the wake of his side’s dramatic Six Nations finale against Scotland in Belfast on Saturday 

Having fallen six points behind courtesy of three consecutive penalties from opposition centre Helen Nelson, Ireland were seemingly heading towards a fourth defeat of the campaign and a first wooden spoon finish in the Championship since 2004. That was until Enya Breen drove powerfully over the whitewash at the end of a relentless period of attacking pressure and subsequently slotted the conversion to her own score to seal a last-gasp 15-14 success.

Despite being elated at claiming the spoils on the night, McWilliams was also somewhat frustrated in the aftermath of a performance that he readily accepted was far from flawless. 

“I was disappointed today to be honest with you. It’s funny now, because I’m split in my emotions. Obviously I’m delighted for my players, it was really important for the momentum and the work they put in. You can see their commitment to the jersey and the cause, but we’ve got a lot of work to do,” the Dubliner remarked from the media suite at Kingspan Stadium. 

“We’re a team that are ambitious and we have to get better. The thought now about going on our first ever summer tour is great. Two Tests, but also I’m looking forward to the summer to get to work. We’ve got to get better at the rugby basics.

“We’ve got to get better around the kicking game and they’re the things I’m thinking of now. It’s funny. Part of me is delighted. I’m so happy for the girls, but the other part of me is… I think there’s a lot we can do to make us a better team and it starts on Tuesday morning. Putting a plan together. I’m delighted for the players, but a part of me feels like I’m disappointed in the performance.”

linda-djougang-and-vicky-irwin-celebrate-enya-breens-try Laszlo Geczo / INPHO Linda Djougang and Vicky Irwin celebrate Enya Breen’s try. Laszlo Geczo / INPHO / INPHO

This is very much in keeping with McWilliams mantra of not focusing solely on results, something he has spoken at length about throughout the course of his debut Six Nations campaign as international head coach. He feels this approach led to a composed finish from Ireland, where consistent ball retention ensured Scotland were camped inside their own ’22’ until deep into second half stoppage-time. 

“I was happy because one of the players, after they won, I met down on the field and she said that she never thought about winning or losing. She just wanted to get her detail right from the line-out. That’s where I want the players to be, they’ve got to live in the moment. 

“I think I keep saying this, but if you think about the result you’ll panic and you’ll make an error. The fact that they stuck to task means that they’re in a good mindset space. It’s up to us to improve their technical and tactical abilities, and their understanding around the game, it’s got to get a lot better.” 

As a consequence of last night’s game, Ireland ended this year’s Six Nations with two wins to their name and a fourth place finish in the table. Reflecting on the competition as a whole, McWilliams is generally happy with how it went for his side and feels his charges might be at an even more advanced stage than he had originally anticipated.

“I’d love to play Wales again because we learned a lot after the Wales game. I understand our set-piece is still not quite functioning, but I thought the scrum performance we put in against Italy and again tonight in stages shows that we did a lot of work around our line-out and maul defence post-Wales. That’s the one game I’ll look back on and wish I could play again,” McWilliams said. 

“I think against France that was probably right. Unfortunately against England that’s probably right as well, where we are. 10-0 at half-time as well, it was a good tactical piece of work by the players to stay in the game and then we saw what happened in the second half. You go down two players and then all of a sudden you’re hitting soft shoulders.

“You’re committing two or three to a defensive breakdown. Your numbers are down already and then we’re chasing shadows. I think I am where we thought we would be. Maybe we’re a bit further down the line that I thought because we’ve got a gutsy group and that’s the heartbeat of any team. 

“I’m just excited to get to work on Tuesday and build a really good plan for them that we can develop around the core skills of the game, because without those done repeatedly well you’re wasting your time.”

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