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Ireland's youngsters have the star quality to elevate and transcend the XVs scene

Look no further than Ballinasloe RFC to see signs of Béibhinn Parsons’ potential influence on women’s rugby, and indeed women’s sport.

Béibhinn Parsons celebrates her try against Wales in last year's Six Nations.
Béibhinn Parsons celebrates her try against Wales in last year's Six Nations.
Image: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

IRELAND CAME GOOD on their pre-game promises, putting together a scintillating performance to blow away Wales in Cardiff despite not having played a Test match in six months.

Adam Griggs’ side were remarkably fluid in attack, showing no evidence of ring rust as they killed the contest within the opening minutes and racked up a score which almost matched that of this weekend’s opponents, France, who put the Welsh to the sword a week prior.

At times, it was made to look as simple as “get the ball to Béibhinn Parsons” as Murray Kinsella put it on today’s episode of The42 Rugby Weekly, the Connacht flier’s first solo score a picture-perfect representation of her prodigious talent.

And while Ireland had standout performers in every position, it was again wing Parsons and, on just her second start, fellow youngster Dorothy Wall who left the longest lasting impressions. With just 11 caps and less than 40 years between them, Parsons and Wall are two players around whom Ireland will seek to build a long-term future on the field of play.

Equally, though, they and a number of their peers have the potential to elevate and transcend the women’s XVs scene off the pitch, the idea of which was discussed by Murray, Bernard Jackman and host Gavan Casey during their Ireland-France preview earlier today.

“Even when I was suggesting to her that there have been fears over the last few years that this Six Nations is almost becoming a two-tier competition with France being semi-pro, with England being pro”, said Gavan, referring to a recent media call with Parsons, “she almost — like, she gave me daggers down the Zoom lens, you know? She kind of scoffed at that notion.

“She struck me as somebody around whom you could actually build a sport. She struck me as somebody whose face could be a poster on kids’ bedroom walls — boys and girls. Like, she seems like a bona fide star in the making and, I guess, somebody who has the potential to cross over as well and become a mainstream sporting figure — which is more difficult for women in sport in Ireland.

“The same could be said for Wall, I think. She was absolutely sensational over the weekend on both sides of the ball and… They’re going to be there for years! So, shouldn’t the IRFU actually look to capitalise on people like this and really build the women’s XVs game here?”

Murray replied: “Yeah, absolutely. I mean, Parsons comes across as such a mature, kind of self-assured, interested person.

“Obviously, that’ll wear down a little bit with years of media, I presume”, he laughed, “but… She has something to say, you know what I mean? She has something to say for herself and she’s not shy about it. Yeah, I really enjoy that side of it as well.

“She’s clearly confident about her rugby ability and I’ve been impressed with how, every time she plays, you can see the signs of the learning and the hunger — that her team-mates talk about — to improve. Even defensively, that side of her game which wasn’t tested massively against the Welsh obviously.

Also, it’s really important that she has been playing rugby since the start, really. That’s her sport. She hasn’t crossed over into rugby from something else — not that that can’t be a success, but you can see the rugby IQ. Same with Dorothy Wall: she’s come up through the ranks in Fethard and Parsons in Ballinasloe. It’s class for their clubs as well, and I was speaking to someone in Ballinasloe, Ann Conlon, for a piece last week and she was saying they had 120 girls signed up, before Covid hit, to play rugby. And absolutely, that’s based on Béibhinn Parsons excelling.

“So, yeah, they’re role models, they’re brilliant rugby players — and that’s the most important part of it.

“I totally agree with you, the IRFU can harness that encourage that, and that’s part of it. Sport is entertainment and we want to have characters and people who support it want to have their heroes. And absolutely, they can be role models like that.

“But as importantly, they’re just brilliant rugby players. They’re 19 and 20 but that’s why I’m really interested this weekend to see how they go against that top-tier side because that’s the next step for them.”

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Gavan then suggested to Jackman that, in simple terms, the way to grow a sport is to promote “big personalities” and “people who are good at the sport”, and that in Parsons, Wall and co, Ireland have individuals in their ranks who possess both qualities.

“It’s exciting,” Jackman replied. “I’ve been working on a lot of the women’s games over the last number of years and, I suppose, going away from the games, you’re going, ‘Where’s the end point?’ They were kind of blocked between the team who won a Six Nations and beat the All Blacks (Black Ferns), and they’d been in transition. But I genuinely felt on Saturday that this is a team, but also a team with individuals, that you just want to know more about, and hear about their journey.

“I was looking up some stuff yesterday about Hannah Tyrrell, and her story and her experience in other sports. She was so good on Saturday and we’ve been crying out for a 10.

And the reason we love [Simon] Zebo is because he’s authentic and he’s different and he’s himself. And I’d like to hope that these women keep that sense of personality on their journey. And if they do, I think people will follow them — 100%, they will. Because their performances are excellent and they’re going to get better, plus they seem to be very likeable, very normal, good characters. What more do you want?

Zebo’s return to Munster was among the talking points in a bumper discussion on recruitment in professional rugby and how moves such as his and Michael Alaatoa’s in the past week actually come to fruition, with Jackman providing his insights on dealing with CEOs and owners, agents, media speculation, and depth-chart planning.

Today’s The42 Rugby Weekly is available wherever you get your podcasts, and Rugby Weekly Extra will return on Monday for The42 members.


Source: The42 Rugby Weekly/SoundCloud

Murray Kinsella, Bernard Jackman and Gavan Casey delve into the mechanics of signing players in rugby and look ahead to Ireland’s home clash with France in the Women’s Six Nations.

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