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'We feel like we belong to something': Leinster driving standards in women's rugby

New boots, rehab packs and additional off-field support all introduced for Ben Armstrong’s squad ahead of the 2019 inter-pros.

THE LITTLE THINGS. A couple of weeks ago, in the midst of pre-season, the Leinster women’s squad gathered for a team meeting at their King’s Hospital base, only to be surprised with a box of goodies from the province’s various sponsors. 

Videos of delighted players opening the kit like excited children on Christmas morning soon surfaced on social media, and you wondered why there was such a reaction from the room. Boots from Adidas, foam rollers and medicine balls from Laya Healthcare. The little things. 

Sene Naoupu Leinster captain Sene Naoupu at Donnybrook this week. Source: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

But this was about so much more than just receiving a free pair of new boots for the season ahead or a branded gear bag. It’s all a nice bonus, of course, but this was another powerful show of support from Leinster Rugby for its women’s team. And you could tell it meant a lot.

Actions over words.

Leinster are driving standards for women’s rugby in this country. Not only have they supported their players as they should in terms of support, but have, in many ways, led the way for the other provinces. 

The extended inter-provincial series, which gets underway this weekend, sees Leinster open their title defence against Connacht at Donnybrook as part of a first-ever double-header with the men’s team.

Actions over words. 

At a time when the women’s game in Ireland continues to go through a difficult transitionary period, Leinster are making positive headlines off the pitch. Earlier this week, they staged their first media event of the season with both Armstrong and Sene Naoupu in attendance alongside Leo Cullen.

The little things.

Saturday will be a milestone event for the province, the culmination of a lot of hard work behind the scenes to get both the men’s and women’s teams together as one and on the same pitch, one after the other. But it should become the norm, not the exception. 

“It has come a long way,” Naoupu says. “We’re really grateful for it. Leinster Rugby as a province, they’ve been champions for us in different departments. They’ve been really supportive of Leinster women’s rugby as a brand and us as a squad. The commodity is strong to invest in from a commercial point of view.

“The keyword is belonging. For us in the female game, it’s really important we feel like we belong to something and feel part of something. To be part of a province like Leinster Rugby is a huge privilege and there are a number of sponsors that have been supportive of the women’s game. The fact that there are committees driving this is really important.

It’s positive and we’re just really grateful for the opportunity to even play more games and for us, to be honest, the job for us is at the weekend and hopefully, our performances can show it really is worth the investment.

Head coach Armstrong may only be in his second season in charge having taken over from Adam Griggs, but already he has noticed the increased levels of support, which in turn have driven the standard of professionalism within the squad to new heights.

“Yeah, it has reached a new level,” he agrees. “Some of the stuff that we’ve been able to do for the girls, and get for them, is new. It just shows there’s a lot more interest in women’s rugby and it’s not just a sidebar anymore. It’s an event on its own. 

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Ben Armstrong Ben Armstrong is in his second year in charge. Source: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

“The camp this year, the Adidas sponsorship and boots for the girls, that wasn’t happening before. We got supplements again this year, Laya Healthcare have come on board with a rehab pack, so we’re looking after ourselves there. 

“Leinster are leading the way and really bringing women’s rugby to the fore.”

During pre-season, Armstrong brought his extended squad to the Curragh to be tested physically and mentally on an Irish Defence Forces assault course, while Leinster — again through the province’s commercial sponsors — engaged in other off-pitch activities in the build-up to the inter-pros. 

The little things.

All in all, there are huge levels of excitement within the camp leading into Saturday and the prospect of running out at Donnybrook, where there should be a big crowd following Leinster’s pre-season friendly against Coventry at 3pm.

The presence of 10 new caps in Armstrong’s squad, as well as the return of Ireland international Jenny Murphy and addition of scrum-half Larissa Muldoon, has energised the group, but now the focus must switch to the task at hand.

Actions over words.

Naoupu, more than most, feels a responsibility to deliver the best ‘product’ possible. 

“It’s certainly something that we’re trying to build and something, as players, we’re working as hard as we can to have the product there available for people to be attracted to,” the Ireland centre says.

But the brand equity side of it is hugely important, so we’ve been really thankful that this season is another step in the right direction.

“It is a historic occasion but at the same time, we’ve a role within the team. We’ve a game to deliver on. We won’t let the occasion overcome us. We’ve been working on our mental game, our mental fortitude, as well as lot of the physical and tactical side of the game.

“It’s all positive but how we manage that as players and how we produce a product that people come and see. It needs to be dynamic and attractive footy and that will be tested at the weekend.”

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Ryan Bailey

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