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Ireland coach: 'Our players have a point to prove and it’s another great challenge'

Ireland face Scotland on Saturday in Belfast.

Greg McWilliams.
Greg McWilliams.
Image: Evan Treacy/INPHO

HE IS AS eager as anyone to end the Six Nations Championship on a high, but Ireland women’s head coach Greg McWilliams has once again insisted the result isn’t the primary focus for his squad ahead of Scotland’s visit to Kingspan Stadium in Belfast on Saturday (kick-off 8pm).

Following an emphatic 69-0 defeat at the hands of the professionally-assembled England last Sunday, Ireland will be aiming to record their second win of this year’s Six Nations against their Celtic cousins. This marks the first time that the sides have met in a competitive fixture since the World Cup qualification tournament in Parma last September.

On that occasion, a last-gasp converted try from Chloe Rollie secured a 20-18 victory for the Scots and consequently ended Ireland’s hopes of reaching the delayed finals in New Zealand later this year.

While it was McWilliams’ predecessor Adam Griggs who was at the helm for that agonising loss, a number of the Ireland team from that game are set to be involved this weekend. The Dubliner expects this to fuel their performance to a certain degree, but is in no doubt as to what the key factor behind a successful final round outing will be.

“It’s funny because I’ve been perceived as somebody who doesn’t talk about results. The thing is, just to reiterate, you don’t focus on the results because they’re a by-product of your process and how well you’re working away from the game. So you don’t focus on that, they happen as a result of your process,” McWilliams explained at today’s team announcement.

“I just hope your process is good this week and as a result then, we want to get a win. Against a good Scottish side that beat us the last time we played them. They’re in the World Cup ahead of us, so our players have a point to prove and it’s another great challenge for them.

“We’re not focusing on the result. We’re focusing on making sure that all those small details in the game, those 24 seconds from whistle to whistle on average, they’re filled with good actions.”

Given the nature of the final scoreline at Welford Road four days ago, you’d be forgiven for thinking that morale might be an issue for the Ireland squad coming into this weekend.

While McWilliams is adamant his players are mentally prepared for the challenge of the Scots, he acknowledged that other aspects of their game will need to improve.

“We want to be better and we have to be better. We have a group of players that know that more than anybody. Their reaction to the weekend is just phenomenal. You’d be really proud of it. They’re working so hard and they’re doing their best. That’s all we can ask for.

“Let’s just hope this is a weekend where things click and they can show the other side of the ball. Not just the bravery, not just the emotional connection, but also their ability to play rugby and play at a good speed. Hopefully put on a really good show for supporters. That we all want.

“They’ve definitely got guts, which I think everybody who follows the team likes. It’s now about the technical and tactical side of the game that we really want to focus in on this weekend. Put on a more fluid performance. Hopefully we can show all the hard work coming to fruition.”

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Despite beginning this year by officially sealing their place in the forthcoming World Cup – via a final qualification tournament that took place at Dubai in February – it has been a difficult Six Nations overall for Scotland.

Four straight defeats currently leaves them at the foot of the table with just two losing bonus points (picked up against Wales and Italy) to show for their efforts. Nonetheless, McWilliams has seen enough from them over the course of the Championship to treat Bryan Easson’s side with the utmost respect.

“They’re dogged. If it’s tight at all at any stage in the game, you’re into a real strong arm wrestle. They also play with a lot of emotional connection. They definitely have a good DNA that is built around really good core fundamentals, I believe, to compete,” McWilliams added.

“Like us, they’re trying to develop their game and be a bit more tactically aware about when you play at the back, when you play at the front. When you use the back field space. They’re all areas that every team is trying to improve, but they’ve got good moxie.

“I think you’re going to have a physical game. Pressure will exist from both teams. I think it’s about making sure that you’re beginning to get on top in the contact areas, but they’re excellent in that area. So it’s a real challenge for us and it’s a focus that we need to get right.”

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