Niamh Briggs pictured as Pinergy announced their long-term support for Munster Rugby’s sustainability strategy.
New gig

'When I was playing, I was ridiculously intense and just wanted to win all the time'

Niamh Briggs is excited and honoured to be back with Ireland as an assistant coach.

NIAMH BRIGGS IS back with Ireland but she returns as a different person in a different capacity.

The 37-year-old was recently appointed as an assistant to new head coach Greg McWilliams as Irish women’s rugby gets a new chapter underway after hitting the low point of failing to qualify for this year’s World Cup.

There is a big rebuild ahead and McWilliams didn’t hesitate in getting UL Bohs head coach Briggs on board to focus on leading Ireland’s backs, a group that includes thrilling talents like Beibhinn Parsons and Stacey Flood.

Briggs has been there and done that as a player. A Grand Slam winner, World Cup semi-finalist, and world-class fullback, she is one of the most recognisable names and faces in Irish rugby.

Winning 62 caps for Ireland as a player meant the world to Briggs but she’s as excited about guiding progress as a coach too.

“When I was playing, I was ridiculously intense, very cranky, and just wanted to win all the time,” says the Waterford woman.

“I didn’t really understand the personal side of things and never took a huge amount of time to get to know people properly. You have team-mates and have the craic, but I’m talking about properly getting to know them.

“When I started coaching, the buzz I got became obsessive very quickly because I realised it’s not just about rugby. It’s about people. It’s about connecting people to others. If you have a connection with people off the pitch, you’ll more than likely have a good connection on the pitch.

“It’s that way of thinking that’s probably drawn me to coaching so much. It’s why I love it, I love watching people interact.”

Briggs will remain head coach of UL Bohs alongside her Ireland commitments, which began two weekends ago with a screening camp for players based in the All-Ireland League.

niamh-briggs-and-greg-mcwilliams Briggs with Ireland head coach Greg McWilliams. Dan Sheridan / INPHO Dan Sheridan / INPHO / INPHO

It was a thrill to see some of the backline talent she will be working with at that camp, with the likes of Nikki Caughey, Nicole Cronin, Aoibheann Reilly, and Natasja Behan impressing ahead of the Six Nations, which kicks off at the end of March.

Briggs has coached the Munster U18s team and has also been an assistant for the senior inter-provincial side, helping her to gain experience. She’s a self-confessed rugby nerd who lives and breathes the game.

So linking up with McWilliams again has been a pleasure. He was an assistant coach for Ireland from 2012 to 2014, taking in the Grand Slam and World Cup semi-final, and has returned from the US to lead what the IRFU hope is a new dawn.

“He is just so good, his energy and enthusiasm, his ability to draw players into making better decisions,” says Briggs. “I came away from it blown away by his coaching and how he tests players without putting them under severe pressure mentally, I think that’s really big.

“Even though they don’t realise it, they’re actually doing a huge amount of work off the ball or on it. It’s his manner, the energy and enthusiasm is almost infectious and you could see that amongst the group.”

McWilliams has brought a renewed focus on the All-Ireland League too, helping to push through a rejigged calendar that means Ireland internationals and hopefuls are currently playing in the AIL as they aim to impress ahead of Six Nations squad selection.

Already, there is a feeling that the AIL is finally getting the respect and attention it has long deserved from the high performance level of the IRFU.

Though there is disappointment that her UL Bohs side won’t be in the final after losing to Railway Union last weekend, Briggs lauds the quality of the ‘Top 4′ section of the league which has run post-Christmas between Bohs, Old Belvedere, Railway, and Blackrock – who will be the other finalists in two weekends’ time.

“My Dad came up to the Railway v Bohs game last week and said the first 30 minutes was one of the best club sides he’s seen play,” says Briggs.

“They blew us out of the park. With an Irish hat on, it’s pretty cool to see that. I’m still bitterly disappointed with my Bohs hat on but that level of game week-in and week-out is huge.

“I never really understood it before. I always had… not an ignorant view, but was happy enough to play week-in and week-out, the opposition didn’t matter.

niamh-briggs Briggs during TV work with RTÉ. Billy Stickland / INPHO Billy Stickland / INPHO / INPHO

“Now I understand the benefit of competitive games and understanding that if you switch off for a minute or two, there are consequences. Every team you play in this little round robin are really good.”

Ireland are set to pick and name their Six Nations squad following the TG4-screened AIL final on 26 February and then preparations for their opening championship clash against Wales on 26 March will ramp up.

Briggs, who is also still working as a Garda in Limerick on top of all the rugby commitments, is buzzing to get stuck in.

“A big focus for us over the next few weeks is definitely gelling a squad together because there has been a huge amount of retirements and a lot of young girls coming in.

“But it’s also about working on core skills and understanding that Test level rugby has massive intensity and pace, and trying to get them up to scratch on that.

“Short-term, I think we’re looking at ourselves, we can’t really look at anyone else. I’d imagine Scotland will win this weekend [in the final qualifying competition] so they’ll be at the World Cup as well.

“A lot of other teams are heading to a World Cup in September, so the Six Nations is about prep for September and October. Whereas for us, it’s about rebuilding and starting afresh. It’s almost like a blank canvas for us to go and have a look, so I don’t think we can compare ourselves to any other team in the tournament at the moment.

“We’ve got to look at ourselves and hopefully, whatever we decide as our goals and standards as a group, we can stick to them in order for us to be able to measure something at the end and say, ‘Yeah, that was a good few months for us.’”

Pinergy has teamed up with Irish and Munster legend, Niamh Briggs, to announce their commitment to the long-term support of Munster Rugby’s sustainability strategy. Already supplying 100% renewable energy to Thomond Park and Musgrave Park, Pinergy will now fund a 10-year partnership to install a 400 kw peak Solar installation at Musgrave Park.

Gavan Casey is joined by Bernard Jackman and Murray Kinsella to discuss the prospect of South Africa replacing Italy in the Six Nations and reflect on Ireland’s performance in Paris, before looking ahead to the URC action this weekend.

The42 Rugby Weekly / SoundCloud

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