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The sky is still the limit in Ireland's new era of women's rugby

Jenny Murphy is still finding her feet at outside centre, but could find a winner’s medal around her neck this weekend.

LIKE MOST OF her team-mates, Ireland centre Jenny Murphy is happy to admit that there is plenty still to learn about her role within the game.

“I have big boots to fill,” she says with a piercing gaze and a quick tribute to the midfield partnership of Lynne Cantwell and Grace Davitt who called time on their international careers after Ireland’s run to fourth at last year’s World Cup.

Philip Doyle with Jenny Murphy, Lynne Cantwell and Niamh Briggs after the game Murphy reacts to the World Cup exit with Lynne Cantwell and Philip Doyle. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

The Belvo woman most often found herself challenging Davitt for the job of making hard yards at inside centre. With two midfield slots to fill however, head coach Tom Tierney opted to use Murphy’s experience and athleticism in the notoriously difficult 13 channel.

“Getting the 13 jersey has been a steep learning curve for me,” admits Murphy, ”but I think I am learning a lot and getting better as the tournament progresses. Hopefully I will finish on a high against Scotland and we can come away with some silverware.”

Alison Miller and Jenny Murphy celebrate Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

The selection of Murphy is also another strand to a trend around world rugby where  hard-carrying gainline breakers are being used at outside centre rather than in the traditional crash-ball hub at 12. Leinster are moving that way with Ben T’eo, Australia have Tevita Kuridrani and France have Mathieu Bastareaud. More often than not Murphy is focused on her own actions and her own game, but she’s willing to compliment that by taking pointers from wherever she can to make the switch.

I was looking a lot at what, defensively, I could work on. You have to be a lot more accurate with your defence. You can’t fly up as much. A lot of the time you have to be communicating and talking a lot.

“Attacking-wise, you get a lot more space so it is good to run on to the ball and get a few yards for the team. There is a lot more open ground, which is great. Other 13s tend to be smaller so, for me, it is good to run up against these smaller players, to be honest.

“It is good, enjoyable and I am happy to be there. I need to look at more Kuridrani to get tips off him.”

Murphy is fully aware that she is one of the lucky ones in this hard-won bright new era in women’s rugby. The Kildare native is contracted by the IRFU to compete for the Sevens squad while also acting as a SkySports-funded athlete mentor. She lets out a proud smile as she terms herself one of the first semi-professional players in Irish women’s rugby.

“I hadn’t really thought of that, but it is kind of cool. I still have a day job as well, to keep me out of mischief.”

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Jenny Murphy Murphy belts out the Irish anthem before the lights went out against France. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

With contracts also funded for head coach Tom Tierney and director of rugby Anthony Eddy now, the female game is evidently being heard at last in the boardrooms. And that can only bring more improvement, Murphy believes.

“I think the sky is the limit with women’s rugby. It is one of the fastest growing sports in the world and is growing massively with Ireland too.

“I don’t think it will get to the level that the men are [at], and that is absolutely fine. Even to be semi-professional or get a bit more [financial] help, it would make an awful lot of difference because it does take – even for a lot of the girls at club level and Leinster – commitment. The amount of training that they do and the amount of work that they miss, it does mean it would be help.

For the game, too, it would be massive, in terms of increasing professional standards. We are already getting that now, through strength and conditioning, management and a lot of other stuff.

“We are getting faster and stronger; that means it is getting more exciting. All the teams. That has made for an exciting Six Nations and more people wanting to come out and watch.

“With that growing support, not just from the media but from fans and players alike, it increases the interest in the game. Professionalism will help but I’m not sure how far it would bring. It would be fantastic and brilliant but, I think it will be down the road a bit.”

Jenny Murphy Source: Cathal Noonan/INPHO

Of much more immediate importance to Murphy and her team-mates is this weekend’s Six Nations finale. Ireland sit second in the Championship table, 20 points worse off than leaders France. Les Blues, however, must emulate Ireland in defeating the World Champions England. And Tierney’s charges will know exactly what margin of victory is required when they wake up in Scotland on Sunday morning. A medal would be a decent way to remember your first campaign as a starting centre.

“To win a Six Nations at all would be fantastic, Especially coming off what some people would say was a successful World Cup. But, the way that we went out, I think that will always be bitter with me.

“It would be fantastic for some of the older players to maybe redeem ourselves in the public eye. For these younger players to experience success… it is great to get into that habit of winning all the time.

“When you are not used to losing, you want it to happen less and less. It only bodes well for the future of Irish Women’s rugby.”

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About the author:

Sean Farrell

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