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Dublin: 5°C Saturday 17 April 2021

'Best of the rest' should be Ireland's minimum target until sport takes shape around them

‘There’s no doubt about what’s being put in by individuals and how they’re maximising every resource they have, but you can always have more support.’

Dorothy Wall carrying during Ireland training.
Dorothy Wall carrying during Ireland training.
Image: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

THE TOURNAMENT KICKED off last weekend but, due to its new-look two-pools-of-three format, Ireland have had to wait a 24th week before they return to competitive action in a feverishly anticipated Guinness Women’s Six Nations start of their own.

And the two opening fixtures put things in stark perspective: fully professional England and semi-pro France racked up over a hundred points between them at home to ‘amateur’ Scotland and Wales respectively, the latter of whom failed to register a point in Vannes.

The challenge facing Ireland has never been more daunting on paper and yet Adam Griggs’ side have, for all intents and purposes, prepared for this tournament as professional athletes themselves, enjoying — or indeed enduring — no fewer than 20 training camps since October in advance of this year’s postponed competition.

Lock Aoife McDermott said earlier this week, “I think we’re in one of the best places we’ve ever been and I think we can go out and cause upsets in this tournament,” while scrum-half Kathryn Dane added:

I feel like we’re in the strongest position we’ve ever been as a squad. We’ve had all that time to grow as a team and I think that will really stand to us. We’re feeling we’re up for an upset. The IRFU have been great in giving us the resources that we need to perform at the minute so the picture might change in a couple of years and we might be operating at a semi-professional or professional level like England and France.

A victory in Wales this Saturday (17:00, RTÉ) would only bolster the belief in Adam Griggs’ ranks and, in reality, it’s victories over Wales, Scotland and Italy which need to become Ireland’s bread and butter in the short term; not only as a springboard from which they can try to bridge the gap to the top two, but so that they can routinely qualify for the top tier of the new WXV tournament from 2023 which will paramount to their growth.

Murray Kinsella explored as much on this week’s Rugby Weekly podcast with fellow analyst Bernard Jackman and host Gavan Casey, telling listeners that for Ireland to beat England or France in the next couple of years it would be “a massive upset in the short term, and because those programmes — professional in England and semi-pro in France — probably accelerate things (the gap) even more.

“And the Irish players are unbelievably professional and have been for a long time in their approach, in their training,” Kinsella continued.

Their camps are really high-quality and high-pressure. There’s no doubt about what’s being put in by individuals and how they’re maximising every resource they have, but you can always have more support.

“And professionalism here, clearly, is a long way away; David Nucifora said as much recently that it’s not a priority for them (the IRFU). The priority is getting the structures and the pathway and the pipeline right to create a little bit more depth before that point.

“So, absolutely, in the next few years, without wanting to sound unambitious on their behalf, Ireland will have to target being that third-placed nation in the Six Nations — all the more so because that’s what qualifies you into the top tier of the WXV competition from 2023 onwards — and absolutely look for scalps.

“You’re never going to go play for Ireland against England, France or against anyone thinking, ‘It’s okay for us to lose, here.’ So, they’ll feel this weekend, if they can get a bounce with a good performance, get back to that progress they were making, then they’ve got France at home and that’s an advantage in terms of the travel et cetera.

They’ll feel they’ll always have a good shot against those two top-tier nations but I do see the gap opening up and I think there is an onus on the IRFU to make sure that stuff that they’re talking about [is continued] — in terms of the good work that’s been done with girls rugby, getting AIL structure nailed on and having that competition for players when they’re not in Ireland camp. That’s really important because England, again, have their Premier 15s and there are some strong French clubs as well.

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To listen to the full Wales-Ireland preview, and indeed the full episode which also looked ahead to Leinster’s Champions Cup quarter-final at Exeter, just search for ‘The42 Rugby Weekly’ wherever you get your podcasts.

Source: The42 Rugby Weekly/SoundCloud

Murray Kinsella, Bernard Jackman and Gavan Casey look back on a mixed weekend in Europe for the provinces before previewing Exeter-Leinster and Wales-Ireland.

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