# big in japan
'A tour like this is invaluable. We talk about it every day, how special it is'
Katie O’Dwyer is part of a new-look Ireland squad gearing up to face Japan on their historic summer tour.

KATIE O’DWYER FEELS privileged to be part of this.

A piece of history, Ireland’s first-ever summer tour.

katie-odwyer-and-sam-monaghan-celebrate-at-the-final-whistle Ben Brady / INPHO Katie O'Dwyer (18) at the heart of the celebrations after Ireland's Six Nations win over Italy. Ben Brady / INPHO / INPHO

“It’s huge,” the Galway prop tells reporters from the team’s base in Shizuoka, Japan ahead of Saturday’s first Test against the hosts [KO 11am Irish time, live on TG4].

“We talk about it every day, how special it is. You get goosebumps when you think about it. It doesn’t matter whether you’re at home in the RDS or out here, it’s such a special time. We all feel incredibly lucky. We won’t take things for granted, you dont know what’s around the corner really. It’s just about making the most of our time.

“A tour like this is invaluable. We’ve spoken about how it’s the first time we’ve been away for such a long period of time. It’s just to make the most of that time and nail down what we want to do as a squad, on and off the pitch.”

Greg McWilliams’ squad is a new-look one, with several uncapped players and rising stars included amidst a host of injuries, unavailability of some of the Sevens contingent, and retirements.

A few days’ camp in Dublin before departure for their Hamamatsu base late last week had the side in good stead, with some new additions to the coaching ticket too in John McKee and Dennis Fogarty.

“The group has gelled really well. We’ve come a long way since a week or 10 days. Everyone’s fitting in really well. There’s a place for everyone and the buzz is good here at the moment.”

“I’d have to put my hand up and admit I’m one of those people on the social committee,” O’Dwyer adds with a laugh, when asked about team bonding.

katie-odwyer-lauren-delaney-and-neve-jones Ryan Byrne / INPHO O’Dwyer with Lauren Delaney and Neve Jones at training last week. Ryan Byrne / INPHO / INPHO

“We’ve been doing plenty of cultural stuff here at the moment. We were only talking about the age gap, there are 18-year-olds and there’s 32-year-olds there. It doesn’t matter what age you are once you’re hanging out together. People go to castles and gardens, it’s just about switching off when you can.

“The days are long and intense and there’s a different temperature and humidity out here so it’s important to have that time where we can switch off together. It’s important again to switch on when the time comes, like we did yesterday and today. People are hanging out and getting on really well. It’s a good environment.”

There are always “work-ons,” she says, from a team perspective and an individual one, particularly after a testing Six Nations campaign.

The number three jersey was alternated between O’Dwyer and Christy Haney for much of the tournament; the competition fierce, but friendly and welcomed.

“Scrummaging is the biggest battle there for props,” she explains. “That’s probably one of the biggest parts of my game that I have to work on. Christy has certain aspects to her game and I have certain aspects to mine.

“It’s just about helping each other along, there’s a good relationship there to be honest. It comes down to set pieces and at the end of the day, that’s what props are about. We enjoy the open play too but it’s about nailing down the scrum and that’s what I’m working on at the moment.

“We all have our own personal goals and we all spoke very openly about them during the week about what we want to get out of it. As a group the major goal is to bring in these new players and incorporate them in. It’s not easy, it’s a high-performance environment, even though it’s a positive environment. It’s still tough to come in.

“To get those on field and off field relationships going and build for the future, you’re starting from scratch here and it’s important to bring everyone along.”

katie-odwyer-with-her-mother-anne Dan Sheridan / INPHO O'Dwyer with her mother Anne after March's Six Nations opener in the RDS. Dan Sheridan / INPHO / INPHO

There’s a real sense of optimism and positivity around Irish women’s rugby at the moment, the announcement of this historic tour followed by an even bigger one: that the IRFU will provide professional contracts to women’s 15s players for the first time next season, along with the appointment Gillian McDarby as Head of Women’s Performance and Pathways.

“It’s what we’ve wanted for years and what we’ve been pushing for. I suppose it’s down the line for us really, we’re just trying to nail down what we’re doing out here.

“It’s big news, it’s very positive and we’re delighted. We’re looking forward to working with Gillian and we think she’ll be absolutely brilliant in the job. At the moment we’re just focusing on Japan and coming away with two wins.”

It’s an achievable outcome, O’Dwyer believes, but a tough challenge lies ahead.

“They have been playing really well so far and have played South Africa and Australia. We have footage to work off. We’re looking at them, strengths and weaknesses like we do in every game.

“They’re a good side and are going to the World Cup. But we’re very sure that we can put it up to them. We’re looking at their game but also looking at our own more so. We’ll get out and put it up to them like we did in November.”

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