Greg McWilliams speaks with Méabh Deely after Ireland's sensational win. Akito Iwamoto/INPHO

McWilliams hails young guns, 'truly special captain', and players who soul-searched after Parma

The head coach said that even if Ireland had gone 20-0 down, he would have been confident that they’d come back in Fukuroi city.

IRELAND HEAD COACH Greg McWilliams can rightly be “exceptionally proud” of his side after a 57-22 victory over Japan that few outside of the national-team setup would have seen coming.

In the humidity of Fukuroi city, Shizuoka, it was the tourists who brought the heat and torched their World Cup-bound hosts, nine tries — including a hat-trick off the rolling maul for Neve Jones — the perfect start to this two-match series in the Far East.

McWilliams also blooded six new caps, four starters and two off the bench, including 18-year-old Dannah O’Brien, the latest in a long line of out-halves to wear green in recent years. There were debut tries, as well, for Aoife Dalton and Méabh Deely, as an inexperienced backline blended perfectly with a slightly more seasoned pack — led expertly by Nichola Fryday, whose efforts at the breakdown led to Dalton’s crucial score.

It was a day when everything clicked, and it was a day on which every one of McWilliams’ players stood out in their own way.

greg-mcwilliams-speaking-after-the-game McWilliams addresses his side post-match. Akito Iwamoto / INPHO Akito Iwamoto / INPHO / INPHO

“The girls have put in a phenomenal amount of work since the Six Nations to try and make sure that we were going to be the best that we can be for this tour,” said the Ireland head coach on a post-match video press conference.

“And I have Nichola beside me now who has just been phenomenal as a leader, as a captain. The whole country should feel lucky to have her looking after a group of players.

We gave young people an opportunity and maybe people will question it but when you’re seeing them day to day… I mean, I think now, after that performance, you can see that there’s a special group that is forming.

“I think it was important for us to show what we’re made of as a group, particularly not going to the Rugby World Cup,” McWilliams added. “When we went down 15-0 very quickly, many teams would have dropped their heads but the composure that the group did show shows that they’re confident in each other, they’re confident in what we’re trying to do, and I’m just very proud as a head coach.”

Alluding once more to his skipper, McWilliams described Offaly lock Fryday as a “truly special captain”. Her leadership was evident for 80 minutes today — or for the 65 or so that people back home in Ireland actually saw: the local broadcast got lost in transit between Shizuoka and Galway, where TG4 were forced to fill time as they awaited a fix for technical issues happening 10,000 kilometres away.

Fryday is happy enough that people missed a chunk of the first half: it was a period in which Ireland fell three scores behind.

The portion of the game that was beamed to televisions in Japan and Ireland was, consequently, the Ireland women’s team’s biggest ever comeback victory.

Tasked with giving an oral history of the inauspicious start, Fryday described it as “slow”.

nichola-fryday Nichola Fryday takes on two Japanese defenders. Akito Iwamoto / INPHO Akito Iwamoto / INPHO / INPHO

“We didn’t have much possession. We said coming into the game that if you give this Japanese team the ball, they will play and they will execute: their skill set is extremely high.

“We just let them get on top of us and for us, then, we just had to take a step back and say, ‘Look, we’re playing in the wrong parts of the field, here; we’re not getting any possession, we’re giving away silly turnovers.’

We regrouped and that’s probably something that we haven’t shown we can do in the past.

The decision to field youth to the extent that McWilliams did was one that raised eyebrows but, ultimately, one that paid off in spades.

All six new caps were excellent across their minutes, while Molly Scuffil-McCabe and Chloe Pearse, with only seven caps between them, also touched down at at Ecopa Stadium.

“You look at Taryn [Schutzler] who came on at the end, Leah Tarpey, Aoife Dalton, Dannah [O'Brien], Méabh Deely, Tasha Behan,” McWilliams says. “I mean, they’re the future of Irish rugby. They’ve come through the club game and they’re showing that they belong on this stage.”

On out-half O’Brien, McWilliams added: “she’s 18, she’s got a lot to learn, but we’ve got a generational player, there. And we’ve got a few of them.

“I had no fear. I had full faith in the 29 players that are here and they proved that today. You’ve got to trust people and you’ve got to give people an opportunity to show what they’re made of and allow them express themselves. Not just to Dannah — but to those younger players who made an effort today.

But you’ve got to remember as well: there’s another group of players that have gone through the disappointments of Parma that have had to dig into their soul. It’s been hard on them, y’know? They’re a credit.

“15-0 down, to come back and win: great. But if it was 20-0 down, I still would have had confidence in the group.”

irelands-first-cap-players All six of Ireland's new caps. Akito Iwamoto / INPHO Akito Iwamoto / INPHO / INPHO

Ireland’s head coach said that his side will have a few injuries to contend with ahead of the second test — but he’ll fully concern himself with that on Monday.

Fryday, meanwhile, is already looking forward to Tokyo next Saturday, when Japan will be the wounded animal and Ireland will have to deal with another wrinkle: expectation.

“It was a really tough game,” said the captain. “I know the scoreline mightn’t reflect it.

“The Japanese were really physical, their skill set is outstanding, they’re so quick at passing the ball to the edges and we knew that if we let them into the game they would really shine.

“So, we’re really looking forward to the match next week because we know it’s going to be a really good contest.”

Your Voice
Readers Comments
This is YOUR comments community. Stay civil, stay constructive, stay on topic. Please familiarise yourself with our comments policy here before taking part.
Leave a Comment
    Submit a report
    Please help us understand how this comment violates our community guidelines.
    Thank you for the feedback
    Your feedback has been sent to our team for review.

    Leave a commentcancel