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Briggs urges Ireland to be brave ahead of 'incredibly important' showdown with Italy

The former out-half is expecting ‘a cracker’ in Donnybrook today.

Niamh Briggs caption.
Niamh Briggs caption.
Image: Bryan Keane/INPHO

IN DIFFERENT CIRCUMSTANCES it would be easy to write off today’s meeting of Ireland and Italy (KO 12pm, RTÉ 2) as a damp squib at the end of a strange tournament which has been played out on TV screens, rather that the bustling stadiums it deserves. 

Yet make no mistake, this is a far more significant fixture than your standard 3rd/4th place play-off. Ireland and Italy are two teams with a point to prove, and will be keen to end their 2021 Six Nations campaign on a positive note.

For Italy, the incentive is to lay down a real marker against the team who represent their most direct rival in the Six Nations. England and France remain the standard bearers. Italy and Ireland are looking to close the gap.

Ireland head into the game seeking to put last weekend’s deflating 53-6 loss to France behind them. They are a better team than that scoreline suggests, and a win today against an Italy side who have caused them problems in the past would offer Adam Griggs and his team a decent scalp to hold up as evidence of progress.

Former Ireland international Niamh Briggs, a two-time Six Nations winner, sees today’s encounter as a crucial juncture for the side after a challenging year.

“I think it’s going to be incredibly important for them as a squad in terms of their evolution and where they’re going,” Briggs says.

France were incredibly strong (last weekend) and so, so good but I think Ireland compounded so many errors with errors. Having watched (it) back again a few times, take away a lot of those individual errors and, look, I know there’s no game going to be perfect over 80 minutes but I do think the scoreline isn’t as flattering to France to be fair.

“Ireland couldn’t fix things at the time on the pitch and that’s probably down to a lack of understanding and appreciation of the actual game.

“This weekend is going to be a cracker because Italy and Ireland are on similar pars, they’re not too far off each other in terms of how they play and the level that they’re at.

“Going into this tournament, I thought if Ireland got third, it was going to be a very good tournament for them. To be the best of the chasing pack. And also, heading into the World Cup qualifiers with a win against Italy would have been a good boost to their confidence, and obviously for that global XV that’s coming in 2023.

niamh-briggs Briggs in action for Ireland in 2018. Source: Bryan Keane/INPHO

“I think that’s got to be their realistic goal. But I’m really excited for it.”

The new WXV tournament, announced earlier this year, will bring a welcome added incentive to the Six Nations, making third place a prize in itself.

Only the top three Six Nations teams will qualify to play in WXV’s top tier, WXV 1, which offers the opportunity to play the top three teams from a cross-regional tournament featuring Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and the USA. In short, more regular games against high-quality teams, something both Ireland and Italy have been craving.

There is also the small matter of World Cup qualification fixtures later this year, making today an ideal time to claim a statement win. 

Many see Ireland as slight favourites heading into the game, but Briggs urges caution. This is an Italian team who are well able to play, and will take confidence from Ireland’s error-ridden, disjointed showing against the French.

“If Ireland aren’t tuned in defensively, Italy have the ability to punish you,” Briggs says.

‘Their ability to get the ball wide and play an expansive game is one of their strengths. They look to offload the ball quite a bit.

“If Ireland come with a defensive plan that puts Italy under pressure at source, then they can make it really difficult for them. Sarah Bartane, their nine, has 100 caps. Manuela Furlan, (Vittoria Ostuni) Minuzzi, (Beatrice) Rigoni scored two tries last weekend – they have weapons everywhere.

rugby-six-nations-match-women-guinness-six-nations-2021-italy-vs-england-parma-italy Italy's Manuela Furlan. Source: Alessio Tarpini

“I actually love watching Italy play and love playing against them because you never knew what you were going to get and I don’t think they know what they’re going to get in terms of how they play the game.

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“I think it would be a brilliant win for Ireland if they could cross the line with a good victory.”

The fear is that Ireland might play within themselves on the back of that heavy defeat to France. Ireland came into the tournament full of confidence and stating their desire to play an open, attacking game, and the opening round win over Wales generated glowing reviews – particularly for the dynamic young duo of Beibhinn Parsons and Dorothy Wall – but the cut-throat nature of the Six Nations means one bad day out raises questions.

Briggs believes the squad have the ability to park that disappointment, and hopes Parsons and Wall have the confidence the try play to their strengths again.

“Those players will learn a huge amount from that. They’ll learn way more from that than they will from the Welsh game. It’s a tough game for the likes of Dorothy and Beibhinn because they’ll have come into it after such a good first game, and a target on their backs.

“Now, they’re known across the whole Six Nations and they’ll just have to find ways around that. Every time Dorothy got the ball, there were two French players on top of her, and similar for Beibhinn. There was just no space.

“They’ll have to find a way to work themselves into the game and then try and find that space. So, from that perspective, it’ll be a big learning. Also, if you make one mistake against a team like France, you’re basically back under your posts.

“I think that’s probably been the biggest learning. But you want them to be brave and try and go out and play and try things.

“You don’t want to suffocate them and talk about making no mistakes. Because then you play with fear. I hope that wouldn’t be the case, I want them to go out and try things.”

As part of the Never Settle initiative, Guinness, a proud supporter of the Women’s Six Nations Player of the Championship, and Six Nations will invite votes from members of the public for the first time in the Championship’s history. Voting will open on Sunday 25 April through the Women’s Six Nations website (https://www.sixnationsrugby.com/women/) and social channels (https://www.instagram.com/womenssixnations/).

About the author:

Ciarán Kennedy

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