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Dublin: -1°C Monday 1 March 2021

Connacht captain Fryday targeting Munster upset in inter-pro semi-final

The Ireland international will lead her province out at Templeville Road on Saturday.

Fryday at this week's inter-pro media day in Dublin.
Fryday at this week's inter-pro media day in Dublin.
Image: Gary Carr/INPHO

SHE MAY HAVE called time on her international career in March, but Alison Miller’s influence on women’s rugby is showing no signs of waning.

In addition to being a key figure in Connacht’s back three during the ongoing women’s inter-provincial championship, the Laois native is also one of two assistant coaches within Brian McLearn’s set-up. 

Her vast experience of the top grade is rubbing off on the remainder of the senior squad — including former Ireland team-mate Nichola Fryday.

“It has been great to have Ali in. She’s just brought that bit of experience. That voice in the background that helps settle newer girls, with nerves and stuff like that,” Fryday said.

“Also, to bring a bit of experience of these high-pressure games. To have her within the squad is a huge boost to us.”

Miller’s presence on the Connacht coaching ticket is part of an encouraging trend within the game in Ireland. Marie Louise Reilly is forwards coach at Leinster, while Laura Guest (with whom Reilly won a Grand Slam in 2013) heads up an all-female backroom team in Munster. 

It is the latter who provide the opposition to Connacht in Saturday’s inter-pro semi-final at Templeville Road [KO 1.30pm] — which serves as a precursor to the clash between defending champions Leinster and Ulster at the same venue.

Fryday accepts they will be rank outsiders against a side that is packed with past and present international stars, but believes the westerners can build sufficiently on last Saturday week’s 20-19 group stage win over Ulster.

“Munster are a tough team and they always fight to the end. We’re under no illusion, it’ll be a big match at the weekend and a big, physical match.

“We had said we needed the win [against Ulster]. We ground it out and got the win that we needed. It has given us a little bit of confidence going into this weekend now and it gave us a bit of a pep in our step.”

nichola-fryday-celebrates-her-side-winning-a-penalty-from-a-scrum Fryday in inter-pro action for Connacht. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

Despite only taking up rugby while studying agricultural science in UCD, Fryday has enjoyed a rapid rise to the international arena.

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Having initially set her sights on securing a provincial cap in 2016, she made her Ireland debut as a 21-year-old in a November Test defeat to Canada.

“It was all a blur. It was a tough match. All I remember from it is just tackling continuously. I don’t think I did much else but tackle,” the Connacht captain said of her international bow.

“They were an unbelievable side. They were just on another level. It was something that just opened my eyes up to what international rugby is. I’ve just loved it ever since that day.

I was with Tullamore and we were in Division One in the Leinster League. I went for a trial to Connacht, I really wanted to make a provincial team. That was my goal for that year [2016]. I was lucky enough that Tom Tierney was at a couple of our sessions and brought me into the squad. To get the call-up was just a huge, huge honour.”

Having received a baptism of fire in that 48-7 reversal to Canada, Fryday went on to feature in the 2017 Six Nations. She subsequently missed out on the final squad for the home-based Rugby World Cup, before bouncing back to establish herself as a regular starter under present head coach Adam Griggs.

An underwhelming eighth-place finish two years ago means Ireland will have to embark on a European qualification phase for the 2021 World Cup in New Zealand.

This is set to take place in Autumn of next year and forms part of a 13-month integration season plan for women’s rugby that was recently unveiled by the IRFU. With motivation on her side, Fryday hopes she can help Ireland get back onto the global stage.

“That’s definitely in the back of my mind. I’d love to get to a World Cup. It’s every player’s dream to get to a World Cup. I was obviously disappointed, but when I look back on the 2017 World Cup, it was a building thing for me.

“I’ve learnt to take disappointment and it has made me cherish my caps more now, as I get them more regularly,” Fryday added.

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