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Captain Briggs proud of Ireland's mental strength as she leads drive for home World Cup

‘We won games we had no right to win. And sometimes you need that stomach, that grit.’

THERE’S A WINCE from Niamh Briggs that should only bring fist-clenching confidence to fans of Irish rugby in the month ahead.

On many occasions over the past year, any sign of pain on the captain, fullback and goal-kicker’s face may have been cause for concern. The Waterford woman has been nursing a troublesome hamstring issue and has not pulled on the green jersey since last November’s loss to New Zealand.

Niamh Briggs with Honey Hireme Briggs runs in to Honey Hireme on her last Test appearance in November. Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

Tomorrow though, she will head up Ireland’s 28-strong World Cup squad for a tournament on home soil, and the flicker of discontent comes after The42 points out a few positive signs from the Six Nations just past.

After all, in absence of the talismanic figure wearing 15, Ireland won their first first four matches in the Championship, over-riding stuttering starts and the infamous re-purposing of three Sevens talents as long-term gains were prioritised over continuity of selection in the thick of the Championship.

In the Grand Slam decider against the professional (for now at least) England outfit, Ireland kept pace with in a ferocious contest with the world champions right up until influential openside Claire Molloy took a blow to the head while attempting to make a tackle. England’s pack took over soon after, and the five-point deficit after 50 minutes ended up looking like a thrashing at 7 – 34.

Niamh Briggs Briggs breaks to score in the 2016 Six Nations. Source: Donall Farmer/INPHO

A brilliant 50 minutes holds little value for Briggs if the result doesn’t come in the final 30.

“There were elements of the England game that were good, elements that were bad,” says Briggs in measured fashion.

“We’ve been working hard to fix those. Girls have showed they’re good enough to be at that level, it’s just a matter of being able to replicate it for the full intensity of 80 minutes. That’s the most important thing for us.”

Not just that, but 80 minutes back-to-back-to-back just to get out of the pool stage.

When fatigue sets in for a team playing every four days, it takes a considerable amount of mental toughness on top of physical preparation to grind yards, a performance and results out.

So, for Briggs, the most worthwhile lessons arising out of Ireland’s second place finish in the spring were a last-gasp win in Scotland, a late bonus point secured against Italy and an arm wrestle in Wales.

Niamh Briggs Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

“We won games we had no right to win. And sometimes you need that stomach, that grit to keep going for 80 minutes and we showed that in abundance,” says Briggs, showing even more pride in her team’s efforts than An Post’s decision to put her on a €1 stamp this month.

“When you think objectively about it. Conditions for the Scotland game were horrific, Italy away are always tough. Wales were playing under huge pressure and motivation because of the unfortunate passing of Elli Norkett.”

There were elements of the Six Nations we weren’t happy with, there’ll be elements of every tournament we won’t be happy with. It’s how we manage those emotions and still pull through it that’s really important.

“When your back’s against the wall (that) you show your through character and we showed that. It’s hugely comforting going in to a big tournament like this, you play every four days, it’s very intense. There’ll be players moving from starting to bench and you have to manage all that. As a squad we’ve shown we’re very close, connected and hopefully we can keep pushing each other to get the best out of each other.

“I think we’re in a really good place as a squad in terms of how we’re thinking and what we’re doing. We’re just looking forward to kicking off now.”

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Sean Farrell

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