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'Just to have the parents there, it meant a lot to the players. It’s a big day for us'

19-year-old Aoife Wafer was presented with her first cap after Ireland’s win over Italy.

Ireland celebrate their bonus-point win over Italy.
Ireland celebrate their bonus-point win over Italy.
Image: Ben Brady/INPHO

IRELAND HAD DEPARTED into the changing room after the initial celebrations following their 29-8 bonus-point win over Italy, but emerged a few minutes later and lined up close to the main stand in Musgrave Park.

With hundreds of fans, family, and friends still milling about, head coach Greg McWilliams stepped forward and announced that Ireland were presenting 19-year-old back row Aoife Wafer with her first Test cap.

The Enniscorthy RFC product, who now plays with Blackrock, had come off the bench in the second half only to be yellow-carded soon after, leaving the pitch tearfully, but Wafer returned to win a superb breakdown turnover penalty in the closing minutes to underline her rich promise.

So when captain Nichola Fryday planted that first cap on Wafer’s head post-match, she could embrace the occasion happily. Wafer belted out a rendition of Miley Cyrus’ ‘Party in the USA’ as her first song and was mobbed by her team-mates.

It was a moment that raised a smile from everyone in the house.

“Every time we have given caps out we have been on Zoom links with the parents or other family members,” explained head coach McWilliams post-match.

“Just to have the parents there, it meant a lot to the players. They wanted to do it. It’s something they felt was really important. It’s a big day for us. Aoife getting her cap is big for the family but it is big for the whole group. We’re all really proud of her and it was important that we all shared the moment.

“Rugby is the engine, the vehicle, for what you are trying to create which is lasting memories and being able to challenge yourself, go through difficulties and come out on top.”

lucy-mulhall-celebrates-after-the-game-with-fans-with-a-selfie Try-scorer Lucy Mulhall with Ireland fans. Source: Ben Brady/INPHO

The most important thing today was that Ireland did come out on top. The pressure had been on after defeats to Wales and France in the opening two rounds but this was a much better performance from McWilliams’ side.

“We have a group of players that’s working exceptionally hard,” he said. “It’s good to get rewards for that. There’s more to come. There’s parts of the performance that we still need to improve but to be able to get a win and bonus point for this group of players means a lot for momentum and everybody needed the win.”

Crucially, Ireland’s set-piece was much-improved after a torrid outing against France and McWilliams said they benefited from having Ireland men’s scrum coach John Fogarty join the squad to fill in for regular specialist Rob Sweeney, who was absent this week. 

“Him and Fogs are tied at the hip, they have been working together for about 18 months,” said McWilliams.

“It was great to have Fogs here and he obviously added great experience but those scrums were for Rob Sweeney, he has done a huge shift in the scrum and it has been improving.”

Ireland head into the break weekend of the Six Nations in a happier place, but they face the toughest challenge in the sport next time around.

England have won 21 consecutive games and will be heavy favourites in Leicester in two weekends’ time. 

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stacey-flood-applauds-the-fans-after-the-game Ireland are now set to lose a group of five or six players to the Ireland 7s. Source: Ben Brady/INPHO

Ireland will also have to do without several of their best players, with a crop of Ireland’s 7s internationals heading away to feature on the next leg of the World Series in Canada. The backline will have a very different look against the English.

“Likely we’ll be losing certainly five players from today’s group who are going to Langford, maybe six,” said McWilliams.

“We’ll look at that on Monday morning and try get an early decision so we can plan. We have Tuesday and Thursday training next week and then we train Saturday. I haven’t thought about it much right now, but it’s certainly something in the back of my mind.”

It makes the task even tougher for Ireland in England but, tonight, they can celebrate as they head into the break weekend.

“It’s a good time for the girls to decompress a little after a three-week window,” said McWilliams. “We will have a one-day camp next week and then we’ll be back into the UK the following Thursday for a Sunday kickoff.

“Thank God, I think my wife and kids will appreciate the two weeks off as well so I can see them for the first time in about five weeks properly.

“I think everyone needs time to wash clothes and get on top of their own life! It’s a good time, I hope the girls go out, have a good time and enjoy themselves, they deserve it.”

About the author:

Murray Kinsella  / Reports from Musgrave Park

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