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Dan Sheridan/INPHO Ireland head coach McWilliams.
# Fighting Talk
'We want to be respected. It’s not about being liked' - McWilliams wants to see Ireland 'fight' in France
Ireland are anticipating a difficult encounter when they face Les Bleus in Toulouse on Saturday.

HAVING STUTTERED AT the first hurdle, Ireland’s TikTok Women’s Six Nations campaign ramps up again this weekend as Greg McWilliams’ side brace themselves for a difficult challenge in the south of France.

France away is a difficult task at the best of times, so realism trumps optimism this week as a young team finding their feet under a new head coach set out for Toulouse, where they expect to meet a vociferous, energetic home crowd. 

For many of this Ireland squad, a crowd just north of 6,000 for Saturday’s loss to Wales represented the biggest stage of their career to date. Almost 14,000 turned up to watch France beat Italy in Grenoble on Sunday.

France and Ireland are two teams riding very different waves, of course. Les Blues are aiming to win a Grand Slam. Ireland would be happy to beat Italy and Scotland in their remaining home games, having surrendered a nine-point lead against Wales at the RDS.

Not that the Wales game was all doom and gloom. McWilliams’ team played some lovely attacking rugby in building up a 19-10 lead, while the level of support the team enjoyed was also something to behold, given the dark clouds that hung over the squad last year.

The challenge now is to build on that support, and gain some momentum as the rebuilding process takes shape. 

“I want to be clear about this, the support last week was incredible from the public,” McWilliams says.

But we want to be respected. It’s not about being liked. The only way to get that respect is when people see you working bloody hard to get better and to fight for everyone. If you have that fight in France and you stick to that plan, well I’ll be happy with that. That’s all I ask for and the result will look after itself.

“We are in transition, there is lots going on and we’re trying to get tighter all the time. We’ve a lot of people working very hard at that. The goal is still to win. There is only so much ‘You did great, you were good for 60 minutes.’ So we want to be winning. We need to keep learning all the way to become strong and robust and get to the point we’re competitive against these teams. So it’s an important learning this weekend.”

Ireland have never won in France, and expectations are low ahead of tomorrow’s meeting at the Stade Ernest-Wallon. It’s a big step up for many of McWilliam’s players, but this is all part of the learning curve, partly explaining his decision to stick with an unchanged matchday 23

ireland-players-dejected-after-the-game Dan Sheridan / INPHO Ireland surrendered a nine-point lead against Wales last weekend. Dan Sheridan / INPHO / INPHO

At the RDS last weekend, there was nothing but encouragement raining down from the stands. Toulouse will be loud and lively in a different way. As part of their preparation this week, the Ireland squad trained as fake crowd noise was boomed out through speakers, the players learning to communicate amid the chaos.

“You just focus on what goes inside the white boxes the same as any stadium all over the world,” McWilliams explains.

You have to focus on the job one play at a time. I’ve always wanted players to actually enjoy the big experience, to enjoy the pressure, to enjoy the big occasion, because the more you practice that, when you do get to that big stage, whether it’s hopefully an important game in the Six Nations or the WXV down the line or the World Cup, you need to be able to cope.

“So this is a good example of going into France, going to Toulouse, an incredible stadium. It’s going to be packed. There will be trumpets playing, drums playing, so at training when you’re putting in loud noises where you can’t hear yourself, that’s just a way of practising talking to each other when you can’t hear. But talk to any player, nothing can beat the experience of actually being in that packed stadium. It’s about the process and understanding each play at a time and not letting the occasion pass you by.”

Problem is, managing the occasion is only half the battle. This France squad are almost entirely professional, and thumped Ireland 56-15 when they met in Dublin last year.

McWilliams is encouraging his team to play an open, attacking style of rugby, and the early signs are promising. Even in defeat against Wales, the skill levels were notably sharper compared to what we saw last year.

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eimear-considine Dan Sheridan / INPHO The Ireland squad train at the IRFU's High Performance Centre on Thursday. Dan Sheridan / INPHO / INPHO

They’ll look to bring some of that flair again this weekend, although Ireland will need to be smarter and sharper if they are to stay competitive against a powerful French side who while being bigger and stronger than their visitors, also like to play a bit of ball themselves. 

This Ireland team’s short-term future could well take in some difficult days, but to a certain degree, the pressure is off. There’s a long-term plan in place here, and patience will be required.

“The day-to-day culture and training is not automatically there,” McWilliams adds. “You work on it every day. Since Wales, we review that game and then preview the next one.

The long-term vision is there but every day is about getting tighter on the way to that. I don’t see them as being two separate things. We’re preparing for France the best way. It’s more rhythmical the more we work with each other, from coaches to players and players to coaches, we understand more about what makes us tick. The players get more caps, we all get better at what we’re trying to do.

“There is a bigger picture but it’s about getting better every day. We can look after the games and see if we made our goals for this French game. If we don’t, we need to get better. If we do, we need to get better. It sounds… not wishy-washy… but we just know as a group what we need to do to advance forward.

“We’re on the right path and we just need patience. We are in transition but we are going out to France to fight and to win, to protect each other on the battle ground. Whatever happens we’re all striving to get better. Hopefully we can look back on the Six Nations and see that we were getting better.” 

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