Edel McMahon and Michelle Claffey tackle England's Sarah Bern. Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

'There's not too many 7s players that were in a scrum or lineout'

Ireland head coach Greg McWilliams was proud of his players in Leicester.

IRELAND WOMEN HEAD coach Greg McWilliams opted against pointing to the loss of several starters to the 7s squad and the gap created by England’s professionalism as key differences after watching his side lose 69-0 to the English in Leicester.

Ireland had been shorn of seven players ahead of the Six Nations clash as they departed on 7s duty ahead of the return of the World 7s Series in Canada next weekend.

Those departures were compounded by injuries to starting second row Sam Monaghan and young back row Aoife Wafer in the build-up to today’s clash in Leicester.

England’s fully-contracted professional squad will remain in camp together again in the coming days as they get set for next weekend’s Grand Slam decider away to France, whereas many of Ireland’s amateur players will be back to their day jobs tomorrow.

McWilliams’ side were impressive in the opening half against the English and only trailed 10-0 at the break, but the home side turned on the power and quality in the second period to run in nine further tries.

The gulf between the teams was obvious but McWilliams wasn’t keen on agreeing that the loss of the 7s players and England’s full-time 15s contracts make life all the more difficult.

“We try to not really think about that because I trust the group of players we have,” said McWilliams post-match.

“At the end of the day, the scoreline… it was up front. There’s not too many 7s players that were in a scrum or lineout. England were just so dominant physically.

“They’re really impressive as a group of players who train professionally and have been doing so for essentially three years. Talking to Simon Middleton, the England coach, he thought that was the best contest he’s had in a long time, which gives us great hope.

“Can we go and do that for 80 minutes now? We did it for a half and I think it shows there is maybe a fitness and power difference between the two. All we can do now is go back to the drawing board and make a plan that’s going to make us better and be able to compete more.”

eimear-considine-with-hannah-oconnor Eimear Considine was stretchered off in the second half. Evan Treacy / INPHO Evan Treacy / INPHO / INPHO

McWilliams stressed his pride in the Irish performance despite the big scoreline.

“To go in 10-0 down was really impressive,” he said of his side’s first-half showing.

“We stopped England playing, which is what we had to do to stay competitive. I thought we did it really well, our defensive shape was really good. We’ve given a lot of exposure to the players as to what we felt their attack was going to bring at us and I thought they coped really well with that.

“In the second half, if you go down to 14 players against England for up to 25 minutes [as Ireland did with Dorothy Wall's yellow card and Sene Naoupu's red], it makes it so hard because you’re relying on a group of players to get up and consistenly go against size and power.

“At the end of the day, the scoreline was always going to go that way but I think you just have to look at that first half and take so much from that. If you look at the way they defended until the very end, Neve Jones being the perfect example, Edel McMahon was absolutely immense defensively, and so were many others.

“I thought they didn’t give up at all and as a coach, that’s all you can ask for. We did play the world champions, they were very clinical in the second half.”

McWilliams admitted he was frustrated by referee Amber McLachlan’s decision not to show England scrum-half Leanne Infante a card for deliberately striking Michelle Claffey in the face just before half time, but he underlined that England would still have won.

Ireland move on to face Scotland in Belfast in their final Six Nations game next weekend, hoping to notch their second win of the championship.

They are set to be without wing Eimear Considine, who was stretchered off with a leg injury in the second half in Leicester but was spotted out on the pitch on crutches at full time, and possibly out-half Nicole Cronin, whose back seized up early on, forcing her off in the first half.

Having already been shorn of five of his starting backline due to the 7s call-ups, McWilliams will now have to go further into his depth chart.

“It’s up to us to continue to try to get better as we have done the whole Six Nations and finish on a high next week against Scotland,” he said. “All roads lead to Belfast now.”

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