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Dublin: 17 °C Tuesday 23 July, 2019
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Peat makes passionate plea for change as Ireland continue to fall behind

The women’s national team have lost seven of their last eight games and are facing into their worst Six Nations finish in 13 years.

LINDSAY PEAT HAS been here and done it all before. She recalls the afternoon Dublin were relegated from Division 1 of the National Football League after defeat in Laois, or her early basketball years, when there were more bad days than good. The lows are par for the course in any sport, at any level.  

But previous experiences do not make the current situation any easier to handle, rather add to the frustration because Peat knows how quickly form and results can change. In 2010, having been relegated, Dublin went on to win the All-Ireland ladies football championship that summer. Highs and lows are not mutually exclusive in the context of a single season.

Lyndsay Peat Ireland prop Lindsay Peat pictured this week. Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

It has been another difficult week for Peat, the 38-year-old Ireland prop. Last weekend’s heavy defeat to France in the Women’s Six Nations at Donnybrook was Ireland’s seventh in their last eight games, and another poor performance on Sunday against Wales would see Adam Griggs’ side finish the championship in fifth place — their lowest finish in 13 years.

Although there has been a swell of interest in women’s rugby and the national team with a record crowd of over 6,000 in attendance on Saturday night, there is little else to cheer about at the moment. This championship has again ruthlessly exposed the glaring deficiencies not just within this team, but the whole system. The same mistakes, the same frustration.

And nobody wears the anguish and disappointment of defeat more than Peat, one of the side’s senior members having been in the national set-up for the last four years. You can tell it hurts. 

“Today hasn’t been a good day,” she says. “I watched the game again last night, it has been a dark day and you’re killing yourself over it.”

Ireland’s inability to produce an 80-minute performance, coupled with a string of elementary errors and costly lapses in concentration, continues to be their downfall, the signs of genuine progress in the last 18 months under Griggs pretty much non-existent. 

Two heavy home defeats at the hands of England and France, as well as an away loss to Italy, has ensured the gloom and doom hanging over the women’s game in this country has not lifted. It seems to have been a case of one step forward, two steps back in the three championships since Ireland’s last Six Nations title. 

While the loss of key players — the likes of Jenny Murphy, Paula Fitzpatrick and Sophie Spence — has not helped the cause, the young players coming through have been thrown in at the deep end, forced to learn on the job where there is no hiding place. 

“Confidence breeds that belief and then you start to play and you start believing in the system,” Peat continues. “We’re just waiting for that to click at the moment. Even myself, I made a huge mistake on Saturday night and as much as I’m one of the senior players, my lapse in concentration…it’s a theme now throughout all of us. It’s a team issue and we’re trying hard to fix it.”

The problem, however, is actually fixing it. Go back over Ireland’s last dozen games since the 2017 World Cup debacle and the same defects continue to hold them back and hinder any tangible progress. Handling error, missed tackle, switching off, kicking the ball to the opposition aimlessly, no cutting edge or creativity in attack. A lack of quality, a lack of direction. 

There’s no faulting the spirit and fight, but that simply won’t win you matches at international level. At the moment, with the team operating on an amateur footing, it’s hard to see any way they can turn a corner. 

“What I want us to do is perform for 80 minutes against Wales without the errors and even eradicate the demons in our own head because there are times I’ve questioned myself,” Peat says.

“But we just don’t have time. We won’t have a lot of on-pitch time as a team and we need to look at ourselves and concentrate on doing the fundamentals consistently well.”

Herein lies the problem. It’s all well and good re-watching the tape, identifying the areas in need of improvement and speaking about implementing a game-plan but when a Test week consists of one, maybe two, squad sessions, it’s nigh-on impossible to repair the faults. Nothing will change unless something changes. 

Anna Caplice and Ellen Murphy dejected after the game It was another tough night for Ireland on Saturday. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

“We need to look at how we get to train more or even get training matches. We’re stuck between a rock and a hard place on how we fix those things because it is pitch time, it is contact time.

“It is doing the review on video and now going out to fix it. We saw it with the men, just bringing it back to simple things, but they got to do that during the week. We just don’t have that contact time mid-week. We’re in at camp and trying to fit everything into two days. Even one day.

“We need games to figure this out but at international level, you’re going to be opened up and that’s what France did. It was our mistakes that handed it back, it was us kicking it back to the back three which is probably one of the most potent in the world. You can’t do that at international level.”

After Sunday’s game against Wales in Cardiff, Ireland will not have another international until November. There’s just no way the programme can continue in its current guise.

“No, it can’t go on the way it is,” Peat agrees. “How do you get young girls to make mistakes? You have to pitch yourself against the best. I’m a personal believer in learning from mistakes. They’re never easy, they’re often embarrassing and frustrating but you’d hope we have the mentality to never make that mistake again. 

We’re just not getting the opportunity to do it now. We need a summer series, or even a short mini-tournament. If we could fit in two games during the summer, if we could get Wales, Scotland, Spain, Italy. Something, even a high club team.

“Because even again at a provincial level, we probably won’t be back together as squads until July. The inter-pros start in September, we have three inter-pro games and then you’re back to AIL. I’ve had one and a half club games in the last few months. I haven’t had enough rugby since November, and you can see that.”

Peat continues: “We need underage, we need schools, we need secondary schools, we need clubs, we need provincial and we need international. And until that pathway is there on an equal pegging throughout, we’re going to remain behind. Elite players rise to the level of other elite players and sometimes at AIL level, it’s no one’s fault at the minute, but there are still only three or four teams that you need to perform against. You get away with being sloppy. You don’t at international level.

“For now, the bottom line is we need more rugby and it’s not just any rugby, we need the highest, most competitive level of rugby we can get.”

Adding to Peat’s frustrations has been her own injury torment in recent months. A bulging disc in her neck sustained during the November series reduced the motion in her right arm and ruled her out of contact for the best part of three months.

Lindsay Peat Peat is only just back from injury. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

Told she was unlikely to play any part in this championship, the Leinster prop returned ahead of schedule and after taking part in her first contact session before Italy in round three, was pitched straight back in for the defeat in Parma.

“Let’s call a spade a spade,” she says. “I’m 38 and really shouldn’t be playing international rugby at 38 but if I’m offering something to Adam and the team and he feels I’m still competitive to do that then I’d still want to play.

“However, I don’t want to be second best, I want to be the best I can be but with the injury and having to rehab. Only being back for three games and being a little bit behind, that kills me. That mentally kills me. The only thing for me is that I’m in great shape, I do all I have to do and make sure I do everything well.

“I haven’t really thought about my future beyond this Six Nations. If I wasn’t to play in the jersey, I need to focus my experience in getting back to coaching.

That’s what I’d really like to do, from the grassroots up. If that means a change in career path, I did go back to do PE [in college]. Coaching is where my love is. If I’m not playing, I definitely want to build the game, and the female side of it.

Having won an All-Ireland with Dublin, captained the Irish basketball team and represented her country at a Rugby World Cup, Peat remains as passionate and committed as ever.

She has been through all this before and there are certainly big question marks over the future of the women’s game here, but for now, the focus remains entirely on Sunday and ending this championship on a high. One win, one performance, one result will not change everything, nor mask the problems, but it would mean the world to Peat and this team.

“We’re here as a collective and we stand up together and want to right the wrongs we’ve made,” she adds. 

“No matter what part I play this weekend, I will absolutely lay everything I can out there and make sure we get a win. Because I’d be very disappointed not to come out with a performance and a win on Sunday, especially on Paddy’s Day. It’s in our DNA now to make sure it’s a good day.” 

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Ryan Bailey

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