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'We have to be tough on each other because that's how you go forward'

Ireland Women have no games this summer, while the five top nations play each other in July

USA WOMEN FACED the Barbarians for the first time ever on Friday in Glendale, with three former Ireland internationals involved for the BaaBaas in Gillian Bourke, Alison Miller and Paula Fitzpatrick.

The US can now look forward to four Tests in June and July against the four top-ranked teams in the world – New Zealand, England, Canada and France – on home soil in the 2019 Women’s Rugby Super Series.

It’s an enviable schedule for the coming months and plenty of the envy will be coming from Ireland, where the national women’s team have no summer schedule of any kind in place yet.

Ciara Griffin and Claire Molloy console each other after the game Ciara Griffin and Claire Molloy after Ireland's defeat to Wales in the Six Nations. Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

At the time of writing, there aren’t even training camps confirmed, although there has been talk of three meet-ups being convened as Adam Griggs’ squad look to move on from a deeply disappointing Six Nations that saw them finish fifth after just a single win.

Loosehead prop Lindsay Peat has since been vocal in calling for change – twice.

Ireland captain Ciara Griffin is in a trickier position given her role with the squad but she too recognises that things need to improve if her team is to qualify for the 2021 Women’s World Cup in New Zealand.

“The Six Nations didn’t go the way we wanted,” says Griffin, who joined Rugby Players Ireland’s executive board this week. “We wanted to improve on last year’s performances and unfortunately we didn’t.

“It’s important that we learn from that and keep going forward. We have to improve our specific skills as players, develop our game management and utilise the possession we have. This year was really hard but I think the girls will get experience from it and know that this is what happens in international rugby. You can’t switch off for a second.

“Hopefully we might have a few camps during the summer that we work on those things.

“We have to be tough on each other because that’s how you’re going to go forward, there’s no point in saying everything’s good. You have to highlight the things we did wrong – that’s how you learn and grow.”

A major part of the problem is that Ireland won’t play again until November of this year – almost eight months after concluding the 2019 Six Nations.

How Griggs’ team are expected to get better without actually playing for so long is difficult to understand.

Ciara Griffin Griffin has joined Rugby Players Ireland's executive board. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

That the top five nations in the world are taking part in the Super Series in the US over the summer is even more frustrating. Ireland, currently ranked 10th in the world, are in danger of being left behind.

“You’d obviously love to be playing,” says Griffin when asked how she feels about those other nations getting Tests. “You always want to play in a green jersey but, unfortunately, it’s not there this season.

“Hopefully, that’s something that might change. You’d love to see change in time and get those matches. Because it’s through playing matches that you learn how to fix things.

“At the moment, we will try to focus on getting a squad together, building experience, getting girls more used to certain areas.”

Griffin is passionate about the pathways within women’s rugby continuing to grow, recalling how she started out with the Munster U18s and never looked back.

“The first trial I went to I was at fullback because I was from Kerry so they thought I could to catch and kick a ball, and then they found out very quickly that, no, I like contact so I was brought into the back row,” she recalls with a smile.

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She was encouraged at the scale of a recent U15s and U18s Munster finals day at UL Bohemians, when more than 100 girls turned out, while the U18 inter-provincial competitions in 15s and sevens are another important stepping stone.

Griffin is of the belief that it’s “very important” that these strands in the women’s game develop further.

Ireland currently doesn’t have a women’s U20s team, whereas England and France played each other twice last month at that level.

Sene Naoupu dejected Sene Naoupu speaks to the Ireland team after a defeat. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

“You’d love to see U20s in time,” says Griffin. “It would lower that gap between jumping into seniors or an inter-pro set-up; that can be daunting enough. You’d love to see that happening in time to give them that competition because there are the girls out there.”

The question of whether Irish women’s rugby will turn professional will continue to hang over the sport, particularly with England having secured a dominant Grand Slam this year after handing out professional contracts.

Again, the concern is that the IRFU needs to act before it is too late and the gap becomes too great to close. 

For Griffin and her team-mates, however, the focus is on improving as a squad before they next get an opportunity to take to the pitch again.

The 2020 Six Nations will give them a chance to atone for the disappointment of this year, before the World Cup qualification tournament for European nations takes place in September 2020.

Having had a disastrous home World Cup in 2017, when they finished eighth, Ireland have not yet qualified and will have to fight it out with Italy, Scotland and the winner of the 2020 Rugby Europe Women’s Championship for a spot at the 2021 World Cup.

Of course, Ireland would rather be already qualified but to have their task set out in clear terms is welcome.

“We know now,” says Griffin. “It was up in the air but it’s set in stone. We have an end goal.

“We need to qualify, every person wants to play in a World Cup. We can’t even talk about a World Cup until we qualify for it. That’s the big goal now.

“Obviously, it’s important to improve on this year’s Six Nations performance – that’s a given – and that leads into September 2020.

“We have that clear goal and hopefully you’ll see improvements.”

Gavan Casey and Murray Kinsella are joined by Andy Dunne to get stuck into last weekend’s Champions Cup semi-finals.:

Source: The42 Rugby Weekly/SoundCloud

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