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Dublin: 4°C Friday 5 March 2021

Dane immersed in rugby and ready for another tough Test run

The Ireland scrum-half hit the ground running despite an eight-month gap between competitive fixtures.

IN THE WOMEN’S game these days, you’ve got to make the most of whatever rugby you can get.

The international fixture schedule, for Ireland at least, was thin enough even before 2020 arrived and wiped the slate completely clear.

kathryn-dane-before-the-game Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Eight long months passed between competitive matches for Kathryn Dane and her international team-mates. While their clubs and provinces were still permitted to engage in competition, the top tier players devoted their weekend time, energy and focus on international camps.

On lower Nphet levels, the elite internationals could enjoy an extra outlet in club training before the more intensive work under Adam Griggs’ watch in two-day camps. With the club game locked down again, any rugby is at a premium.

So Dane is grateful that her 9-5 provides ample opportunity to keep her head in the game. Currently studying a PHD in Trinity College Dublin, the scrum-half has also taken up an internship among the physio team in Leinster’s academy setup. There’s hardly a better environment in Europe you could choose to soak up rugby IP. 

“It’s incredible,” she says of the new gig, “even rehabbing players I get a chance to work on my passing, I can join in on passing, kicking, sprinting which is brilliant.

“I’m lucky enough to be training with them during the week and it actually goes hand in hand: they have an appreciation for my training demands and match demands. And I’m trying to pick up as much extra rugby knowledge and skills stuff as I can.”

The Enniskillen woman kept herself sharp over the summer through the wealth of drills passed on by Griggs (a former scrum-half himself), while housemates (former international Jenny Murphy and Seapoint out-half Darragh Mullins) were ideal whetstones.

All the effort far from prying eyes paid off as Dane’s passing was once again a slick weapon that under-pinned the tempo Ireland want to attack with.

“I was really worried about that. You’re always fearful that you’ll lose your rhythm,” says Dane. The fear doesn’t take long to subside. Her first act on both sides of the ball will tell her how well she is primed for the challenge ahead.

As soon as you throw the first pass and make your first tackle you know if you’re in this game.  For myself, the passing, you know if you’ve got the rhythm of it and it’s hard to get it back if you’re not on form.”

Underlying the skill, of course, are the physical demands to keep tempo as a scrum-half arriving at ruck after ruck on time to make the right decision for your team. Dane happily reports that she felt strong and agile despite it being her first match back. Another pay-off the work done in lockdown, when strength and conditioning coaches rub their hands at the absence of constraints like training and competition that they usually have to work around.

“It was a massive work-on for me to get stronger and thanks to (S&C coach) Orlaith Curran we’ve really racked up the weights and hopefully it’s showing on the field with our explosiveness and speed.

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“We really want to play a fast game of rugby and we need to match that with our physicality and conditioning.”

kathryn-dane Dane during the win over Italy. Source: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

Dane diverts praise the way of another coach when speaking about how so much of Ireland’s physicality has been put to use during the Six Nations campaign as a whole.

While there have been flashes of fluid attacking play, their three solid home wins and the second half of the loss to England were built around their defensive effort, so the scrum-half points to the structures put in place by Kieran Hallet.

“He has a massive knowledge base and helped us really hone our defence. He has really simplified everything for us in that we know that if we get our double hits in, get our line-speed then we’ll trouble teams.

“I know we’re a lot smaller than the likes of France and England, but if we can execute our structures well then we can force errors and cause damage.

“Things felt calm and comfortable against Italy. I know we were defending for quite some time in the first 20, but because of our systems we were comfortable with the scramble defence and making our double hits. While it didn’t look like we were on the front foot, we felt in control.”

Control, nor front feet, will be easy to find when Ireland take on France in Donnybrook on Sunday. But this fixture is already something of a bonus as Les Bleus agreed to move the game to Ireland in order to get it going ahead.

kathryn-dane-and-sofia-stefan Dane looks to make a break in the win over Italy. Source: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

It’s a bonus too in that Ireland have already hit their stated goal for this Championship by winning the three home matches they were scheduled to play. A tough hit-out against one of the best teams in the world can now act as a rich proving ground for a defining December when they will take on Scotland, Wales and Italy again for the right to take a place at next year’s Women’s Rugby World Cup in New Zealand.

“It’s really just to keep the momentum going and building for the World Cup qualifiers. Because we all have day jobs and some of us are students, it’s important we get as much rugby under the belt as possible.

“So we’ve to use the weekends as best we can to prepare. We don’t have club rugby any more during the week, so when we have Irish camps at the weekend we have to really capitalise.”

About the author:

Sean Farrell

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