Matteo Ciambelli/INPHO Ireland take on Italy in Parma today.
Under Pressure
Ireland keep the faith as squad look to put Spain horror show behind them
Ireland take on Italy at 2pm in Parma today in a World Cup Qualifier fixture.

HOW DESPERATE IRELAND must be to get back out on the pitch and try set the record straight against Italy today.

It will have been a long, testing week for Adam Griggs’ squad. The women’s game in Ireland was already making headlines for the wrong reasons following the shocking treatment afforded to the Connacht squad last weekend, before events on the pitch made a bad week even worse. 

It is important to remember these players have played very little competitive rugby recently – with the IRFU’s fixture calendar doing Griggs and Co no favours – and against Spain on Monday they looked desperately out of sorts. Their set-piece malfunctioned, their decision making and execution let them down, and perhaps most troubling, their basic skills at times went out the window as the unforced errors piled up.

“We haven’t shown up in the first game of this tournament,” was how Griggs put it.

He’s responded by making four changes to his starting XV for today’s encounter in Parma [2pm, RTÉ Player/World Rugby YouTube]. Laura Feely, Sam Monaghan, Edel McMahon and Eve Higgins all come in, replacing Lindsay Peat – who drops to the bench after a medical issue curtailed her training week – Nichola Fryday, Brittany Hogan and Lucy Mulhall respectively.

Interestingly, the Ireland head coach has opted for just one change to his backline, as Higgins wins her fourth Test cap in the centre alongside the experienced Sene Naoupu. That in itself appears a vote of confidence in his team.

adam-griggs-during-the-warm-up Matteo Ciambelli / INPHO Ireland head coach Adam Griggs. Matteo Ciambelli / INPHO / INPHO

The message coming out of the camp this week has been that there is no need to panic. The squad have acknowledged that they were well short of their best against Spain, but they also have plenty of confidence in their ability as a group.

And they know they have what it takes to beat this Italy team, who will be feeling good about themselves on home soil after an impressive six-try 38-13 win over Scotland in their opening fixture.

Ireland have lost just once to Italy in 24 years, and beat them 25-5 during the Women’s Six Nations 2021 back in April. 

“I think probably the worst thing you can do when you come off a loss and you haven’t performed well is make wholesale changes just for the fact,” Griggs explains.

I think as a backline, and looking at Eve coming in, we actually created a lot of opportunities that we didn’t execute and didn’t finish (against Spain). But when you do a review and you create those opportunities, we’ve ultimately backed the players that they will finish off those opportunities this week, and again there is some good cohesion there in the back three around Beibhinn, Amee-Leigh and Eimear Considine. 

“We’ve looked at Italy, they’ve got a strong kicking game that they’ve kind of brought in over the last six months, and we feel that it’s going to be important for our back three to work together.”

Ireland need to win today if they are to keep their World Cup hopes alive ahead of the final fixture against Scotland next weekend. The winner of this tournament advances directly into next year’s World Cup in New Zealand, while the second-placed team will get a final shot in another qualification tournament that will also feature Samoa, Colombia, and an Asian side.

The pressure is clearly on, and Griggs has had to make sure that pressure is managed in a positive manner ahead of what has now turned into one of the biggest games of his tenure.  

“The challenge for me is to make sure that yes, it’s a game that has a lot on the line and it means a lot to the women’s programme, but at the same time we just have to focus on minute one and getting that right, and then getting ourselves into the game.

“We’re lucky we’re able to draw on past Italian experiences where we’ve played them quite regularly, we’ve felt we’ve put in good performances against them before.

“Yes, they’ll be at home and it will be a different situation but that’s all we can really concentrate on at the moment, and try not to let the big picture get in the way of the here and now.”

A big performance, and a positive result, would be a welcome lift after a desperate week for the women’s game.  

IRELAND: Eimear Considine; Amee-Leigh Murphy Crowe, Eve Higgins, Sene Naoupu, Beibhinn Parsons; Stacey Flood, Kathryn Dane; Laura Feely, Cliodhna Moloney, Linda Djougang; Nichola Fryday, Sam Monaghan; Dorothy Wall, Edel McMahon, Ciara Griffin (captain).

Replacements: Neve Jones, Lindsay Peat, Leah Lyons, Brittany Hogan, Claire Molloy, Emily Lane, Enya Breen, Lauren Delany.

Bernard Jackman, Murray Kinsella and Gavan Casey discuss Ireland’s World Cup qualification campaign, the dressing-room debacle which overshadowed the interpros, and where Irish women’s rugby goes from here.

The42 Rugby Weekly / SoundCloud

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