War of The Red Roses

'We shouldn't alter our game much just because the opposition is the second-best team in the world'

Ireland will take on the defending Six Nations champions England later today.

AT THIS STAGE in the campaign, Ireland have already surpassed their 2019 showing in the Six Nations championship.

linda-djougang-celebrates-scoring-a-try-with-eimear-considine-and-sene-naoupu Dan Sheridan / INPHO Ireland players celebrate Linda Djougang's try against Wales. Dan Sheridan / INPHO / INPHO

A four-point win over Scotland at the start of this month was followed by a five-try blitz against Wales to complete their perfect start. Last year, they picked up just one win in the entire tournament.

Their next assignment, which will also be their first away game of the 2020 championship, will require every ounce of momentum they’ve garnered from those opening victories.

Taking on the defending Six Nations champions England in Doncaster today [KO 12.45pm, RTÉ 2] will offer a true measure of how far Ireland have progressed under Griggs.

And the contrasts between the sides are well-documented.

Since 2019, England have become a professional outfit, with 28 of their Six Nations players on full-time deals. They stormed to a Grand Slam triumph last year, and are second in the world rankings.

As previously stated, Ireland enjoyed just win in 2019 and finished second from the bottom on the Six Nations table.

“We’ve got a theme this week in challenging ourselves to be world-class,” says Ireland head coach Griggs, laying out the stiff challenge that sits in front of his charges.

I said it to the group when we came together last night, people can talk about being world-class all they like. But, they don’t always get the chance to go up against an opponent who is world-class. England have been there and they have proven it.

“This is really where we’re going to judge ourselves and it is great that we’ve had to good wins and plenty of learning from them. At the same time, this is a team that you want to compete against, you want to beat and really earn the respect of their peers.

“We genuinely have nothing to lose. We’ve got a couple of wins playing some good rugby. They will be tough opposition, for sure.”

Poor weather conditions have interfered hugely with sporting fixtures over the last few weekends, and it’s an understandable topic for Griggs to discuss before facing England. 

He says they have received an email this week with a warning that the playing surface in Doncaster’s Castle Park rugby stadium could be quite wet for today’s showdown. If that proves to be the case, Griggs predicts that out-half Katy Daley-McLean will aim to “play territory and make you play out.”

adam-griggs Tommy Dickson / INPHO Ireland women's head coach Adam Griggs. Tommy Dickson / INPHO / INPHO

As for Ireland’s overall game plan, Griggs says Ireland will focus more on how they can influence the game rather than get preoccupied with trying to stop England from playing at all.

“It is a tricky balance,” the New Zealander notes.
“We made a point on Friday of moving on from what they can do. They will look to start fast and put you under pressure. We have to be able to weather that.  

“They will look to start fast and put you under pressure. We have to be able to weather that.

“Once you get over that start, every team has their purple patch, it is about knuckling down and going to work on your systems and what you do well.

Just because the opposition is the second-best team in the world and the current holders of the Six Nations, it doesn’t mean that we should alter our game too much.

“It’s what has got us success over the last couple of weeks.”

Ireland were in the contest against England for the first half-hour of their Six Nations encounter last year. They trailed 13-0 at the break before the gulf in quality came to the surface after the restart to see them concede three more tries in a 15-minute burst.

England added ran in another trio of tries before the end.

“We’re quite keen on looking forward to be honest,” says Ireland centre Sene Naoupu when asked if the team has reflected much on those encouraging first 30 minutes against England last year.

“There’s certainly some things we can learn from [that game] to be better, but we’re just taking this game at the weekend as any other game.”

sene-naoupu-is-tackled-by-kerin-lake-and-kelsey-jones Dan Sheridan / INPHO Sene Naoupu on the ball for Ireland. Dan Sheridan / INPHO / INPHO

While certainly an experienced cog in the Ireland team, Naoupu is yet to enjoy a victory over England in a green jersey. That being said, she also has memories of putting the all-conquering side in a bind at different stages in games.

We’ve certainly been able to put pressure on them in certain moments,” she remarks.

“It’s genuinely an exciting time for us to be able to execute certain things and to have the confidence to do so. Based on the momentum we’ve been able to build in those last couple of games, this weekend is going to have to take it to another level.”

After his appointment in 2017, Griggs is now in his third term at the helm with Ireland. This is a big game for him too. How his side fares against the second-best team in the world will indicate how well Griggs has developed in the role.

The absence of scintillating winger Beibhinn Parsons is significant for Ireland. The 18-year-old, who scored impressive tries in their opening wins, will not be available for the rest of the championship as she puts her focus towards her Leaving Cert exams.

Maintaining their 100% start to the Six Nations will be a huge challenge for Ireland. That aspect of their clash with England can’t be overstated. But the momentum from those opening wins could be key as they look to deliver a performance.

“We respect what England have done and how they can put you under pressure,” says Griggs. 

“We will stick to our systems and processes and, hopefully, that puts them under pressure that they haven’t had before.” 

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