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'The players are starting to buy into it': New-look Ireland turn a corner under Kiwi Griggs

Two wins from three in this year’s Six Nations, Ireland are building confidence and momentum with each game.

Ireland ran in five tries yesterday.
Ireland ran in five tries yesterday.
Image: Bryan Keane/INPHO

Ryan Bailey reports from Donnybrook

THIS WAS BY far Ireland’s most complete performance since the nadir of last summer’s World Cup, and the hope now is that Adam Griggs’ side can continue to make incremental improvements week-on-week.

There was evidence in everything Ireland did, in both attack and defence, that they are moving in the right direction and Sunday’s bonus-point win over Wales not only leaves room for further improvement, but huge grounds for optimism moving forward.

Five tries was just reward for a clinical attacking display at Donnybrook and while the hosts possessed an encouraging ruthless edge at one end, their work off the ball at the other end was equally satisfying.

It was also apt that this victory — one which should now act as a yardstick for the final two games of the Six Nations — came against the side which plunged Ireland to even darker depths at the end of a woeful home World Cup.

The margin of victory in that seventh-place play-off was 10 points, but Ireland, with a flock of new faces, are playing with renewed purpose and confidence under Griggs, Jeff Carter and Mike Ross and turned that on its head yesterday to record a 35-12 win.

“There was more progression from us and every time we step on the pitch at the moment, we’re improving,” Griggs said afterwards. “That’s all you can ask for and finally a few of those last passes which we’ve been working on stuck so we’re pretty happy overall.”

Even with the limited time he has to work with his squad en bloc, Griggs’ hard work on the basics is paying off and his free-flowing philosophy is beginning to become more evident in Ireland’s play.

See Claire Molloy’s try on the stroke of half-time, when Sene Naoupu cut through midfield with a powerful surge to free Katie Fitzhenry, or Hannah Tyrrell’s late score in the far corner when Ireland moved it through the hands to expose the Welsh defence. They’re playing with more invention and flair.

“The way we played and certainly the try for Hannah is something we’ve been working on,” Griggs continued. “It just started to click a little bit and we created some of those chances against Italy but we didn’t get those to stick and today we finally did.

“Overall shape and the way the team is playing I’m pretty happy. Sometimes we were going side to side first when we need to be going forward first but I’m a very big advocate of moving the ball and getting it into space and I think the girls did that quite well.

Claire Molloy on her way to scoring a try Claire Molloy was outstanding again. Source: Bryan Keane/INPHO

“We’re improving every time and even from training last week into training on Friday they’re making a step up each time and as a coach that’s all you can ask for. I think the players are starting to buy into it as well so I’m delighted.”

In Molloy, Griggs has a talismanic leader. She was immense yesterday afternoon and it says a lot about her performance that two tries barely scratches the surface of her overall contribution and impact on the contest.

The flanker was tireless in her work ethic around the breakdown, causing havoc and disrupting Welsh ball when they looked to hurt the Ireland defence in the first half, while also displaying her dynamism around the field with a combination of big carries and important tackles.

Needless to say, the 29-year-old was player of the match for the second consecutive game.

“She’s immense,” Griggs raved. “She’s super. That last try, she’s running out there like a back three player. She’s invaluable to us, especially her work around the breakdown as well. Just delighted she’s putting in those performances.”

The head coach is getting big performances from more than just Molloy. Leah Lyons, the scorer of the first try, was outstanding while Ciara Griffin, Paula Fitzpatrick, Niamh Briggs and Naoupu all put in big shifts.

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More satisfactory, perhaps, was the way the squad’s younger players — namely Aoife McDermott, Ailsa Hughes, Edel McMahon and Nicole Cronin — all made an impact in some shape or form whether it was from the start or off the bench.

Griggs added: “I was really impressed with the subs that came on, they made a really big difference to us. They came on and really changed the game for us again.”

Ireland’s most potent weapon remains the set-piece, and Mike Ross’ impact on the scrum is already evident. It was the foundation of the round two win over Italy and again yesterday, three of the five tries arrived courtesy of a strong scrum or rolling maul.

Then there’s the level-headed presence of Niamh Briggs at out-half — directing and dictating from the pivot position. Her kicking was again flawless, on the occasion of her 60th cap, and when she did make way with 10 minutes remaining, fullback Kim Flood stepped up to land two late conversions.

Nicole Cronin and Cliodhna Moloney celebrate after the game Nicole Cronin and Cliodhna Moloney celebrate after the game. Source: Bryan Keane/INPHO

After an extended period out of the game, Briggs is still getting back up to speed and adjusting to her new role having previously operated in the fullback berth. Her experience, along with the likes of Fitzpatrick and Molloy, remains invaluable.

“She’s huge. She’s got such a good rugby brain, I wouldn’t be surprised if she’s a coach in a few years,” Griggs says of his out-half. “She sees the game really well and we have good conversations on how I’d like to see things done and she has ideas as well.

“You can’t take away that experience she has and she’s so good for the group. It’s about her realising that she doesn’t need to do everything and certainly as a 10 she needs to steer us around the park and I think she’s only getting better and better at doing that so it’s a change from being a fullback. That’s her challenge at the moment.”

The next challenge for Ireland is Scotland in a fortnight, with victory there setting-up a Triple Crown tilt away to World Cup finalists England on St Patrick’s weekend.

Ireland remain some way off that standard set by France and England but at least Griggs and his players can take confidence and satisfaction from the fact they are making encouraging strides forward in nearly every facet of the game.

There are, of course, areas that need significant work — Ireland switched off after half-time to concede two tries — but the initial signs under the new management team are positive.

“We are starting to build some depth, it’s promising for us, rolling on to Scotland we’re in a good place.”

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Five-try Ireland show clinical edge to claim bonus-point win over Wales

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Ryan Bailey

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