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Hallett 'enjoying every minute' with improving Ireland as World Cup qualification the big goal

New defence coach pleased with progress being made as Wales come as next Six Nations assignment.

THE INTERVIEW WINDS down, and Kieran Hallett grins as something is pointed out. 

kieran-hallett Ireland women's coach Kieran Hallett. Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

He’s just finishing media duties in his new role as Ireland Women’s defence coach, while his former team-mate Jonathan Sexton finishes his own as Andy Farrell’s captain in the next room. 2020 Six Nations weekend two is fast approaching.

“Myself and Johnny battled it out within the same squad for a year,” he nods, referring to his Ireland U21 — as it was then in 2006 — days. “It seems like a lifetime ago now.”

Former out-half Hallett spent most of his career in the Championship –  though he had a stint with Ulster — and finished up in 2017 as player-coach at Plymouth Albion. From there, he coached in the Exeter Chiefs academy, before moving to this side of the water last July.

“The job with Leinster came up, I just threw my hat in for it and here we are,” the eastern province’s elite player development officer explains.

A few months later, I found myself coaching Ireland Women. It’s a fairly quick progression for me, but I’m loving every day. Enjoying every minute of it.

He got his first taste of Six Nations action on Adam Griggs’ coaching ticket in Donnybrook last Sunday, as Ireland were 18-14 winners over Scotland. 

A winning start was the main thing, of course, but there’s plenty to do going forward in a hectic campaign and World Cup qualifying year.

“I think probably satisfied is the word we used most,” Hallett notes. “Satisfied that we got over the line and got the win in the end, but certainly not happy with elements of our performance.

“There’s still a lot to work on going into this week and the next few games. It’s the ideal start really: get a win and have things to work on is a good place to be in.”

“Some of our attack in that first 15 minutes was certainly the best I’ve seen, since I’ve been with the group,” he adds, stressing that they key is turning that brilliant opening 15 minutes into a more consistent overall performance. 

It was very, very good and [it's about] trying to build on that throughout the rest of game. Figure out why we lost the foothold that we did and how we let Scotland back into it.

After starting so well and racing into a 13-0 lead, Ireland were stopped in their tracks as Scotland took control — so much so that they nearly went in front themselves on 65 minutes, before 18-year-old Beibhinn Parsons intercepted, ran the length of the field, and planted the decisive try.

Hallett reckons it was Ireland’s discipline, or lack thereof, and at times, decision making that let the visitors back into the game.

“I think it was our discipline more than anything else,” he continued. “Defensively, I’m pretty happy with how solid we were overall. We had to defend for a very long period of time. We were still making good decisions.

adam-griggs-and-steve-mcginnis The Ireland coaching ticket. Source: Brian Reilly-Troy/INPHO

“I think even in that second half, we only conceded maybe two or three line breaks. I was very happy from that point of view, but it’s our decision making around the breakdown. I think we gave away 20 penalties in the game. That’s unacceptable from our point of view.

“When you do that, it just gives teams energy. You’re giving them ins, back into the game. I think that’s ultimately what happened.”

While the entire focus is on Wales and continuing winning ways after a disappointing 2019 in which Griggs’ side endured their worst Six Nations in 13 years, Hallett was hesitant to admit that there was pressure on players after last year.

He’d rather look forward than back. 

“Potentially,” he responds to the question. “Obviously not being involved last year, that pressure is not really something that we’ve spoken about.

Our end goal this year is to qualify for the World Cup. We’re using these games as a stepping stone towards that. It’s not to devalue the Six Nations at all and we want to put our best foot forward, win as many as we can. The long-term goal is to qualify for the World Cup.

“For us, as long as we’re continuing to move forward and I think we took a big step forward from the autumn with the win against Scotland. We lost that tight game against Wales in the autumn.

“Mentally, I thought we were stronger in that last 10 minutes against Scotland than we were against Wales. That was a big tick for me.”

“I think the way you build confidence and the way you build towards that World Cup qualifier, is to make sure you do as well as you can in the Six Nations,” he added, while stressing the importance in finding the balance between competing in the Six Nations and being right for the World Cup qualifiers.

There’s nothing that breeds confidence better than winning. With two home games to start, it’s a great opportunity for us to go two from two.

Sitting listening to Hallett, his philosophy is interesting. 

And it shows on the field, as it’s centred around unstructured play.

“Certainly from my point of view, I’m trying to bring more of an unstructured decision making element to the structure,” he say. “I think you need to have balance, whether it’s attack or defence and just trying to drive that conditioning side with the girls as well.

“Trying to push them to be one of the fittest sides in the world in women’s rugby. Make sure that they’re able to make those correct decisions under fatigue. I think if you look at some of those defensive sets towards the end of the game, where we defended for close to 50, 60 minutes at that end point, we’re still making good decisions.

“From that point of view, we’re making good progress.”

defence-coach-kieran-hallett-with-his-son-hector Hallett with his son, Hector. Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

As the interview comes to a close, one can’t but point out the heartwarming picture of Hallett and his son, Hector, at the Ireland Women’s family day a few weeks back.

He’s delighted at the mention, and it’s a nice way to close proceedings. Life is about much more than rugby, after all. 

“Thanks,” he beams. “It was a great idea, it was Adam’s idea. I think it was really powerful having everyone’s family there.

The girls talk a lot about what it means to them to be in this environment. For them to have their loved ones there and see how they work, away from the glare of the lights on match day, I think was fantastic. My little lad certainly enjoyed himself anyway.

Just like his father is on this journey.

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Emma Duffy

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