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Backing it up in 40-degree heat and a taste of life as a pro athlete

Greg McWilliams’ side will take on Japan in their second Test of the summer tour.

A CAMPAIGN LIKE this is something that Ireland captain Nichola Fryday has always wanted to experience: a first-ever summer tour and a fully professional set-up.

nichola-fryday-speaks-to-the-team-during-the-captains-run The Ireland team gathering in a huddle ahead of their second Test against Japan. Source: Akito Iwamoto/INPHO

And since arriving in Japan almost two weeks ago, that’s what Greg McWilliams’ squad has been treated to. They got their two-Test series off the mark last week with a resounding 57-22 victory over the host nation in Fukuroi City, Shizuoka. Now at the halfway mark, they will hope to round off the trip with another winning result today against the same opposition at Chichibunomiya Rugby Stadium in Tokyo [kick-off - 11am Irish time, live on TG4].

Three changes have been made to the side that will take to the field, as Jo Brown comes in to make her debut in the back row, while Grace Moore and Laura Feely have also been drafted in. The inclusion of ex-England back row Brown is particularly notable as she qualifies for Ireland through World Rugby’s international eligibility rules.

“She has been great,” says Fryday, “she has come in and trained hard and gelled with the group. You can’t ask anything more from her as a new cap. We see her as one of us and it’s great for her to get the first cap.”

A nine-try victory, which included a hat-trick off the rolling maul by hooker Neve Jones, was a statement performance from Ireland last Saturday. But there were some slight deficiencies in their display over the opening quarter after conceding two early tries which left them trailing by 15-0. It was the only blot on their copy book at the end of an otherwise flawless outing, but it’s an area that Fryday and her team-mates will seek to improve this weekend.

“The first 15 minutes was definitely something we weren’t really pleased with,” says Fryday about their bumpy start last Saturday.

“We had the majority of the possession, but we know Japan will come back at us, and we’re not underestimating them in any way. They like to move the ball to the edge as quick as possible, so we’ve had to work on our defence shape, and how we can counteract their style of play.

“Then, focusing back on our attack, and making sure we’re executing. There were some great starter plays we scored tries off, but you have to be able to react to the different pictures to make sure we’re making the right choices on the pitch. It’s been about the finer details and focusing on what Japan will bring. We know they will step it up, it’s not going to be the same match it was last week.

“We’ve been fully immersed in a professional setup for these three weeks. Some of the girls have done a little bit of work, but the majority of us have been able to fully switch to being a full-time athlete for the three weeks we’ve been on tour. It’s been amazing, these are the opportunities we’ve always wanted, and we’re getting them now, and it’s been a great three weeks of learning as well as getting to play some really enjoyable rugby.”

nichola-fryday-and-hannah-oconnor Ireland captain Nichola Fryday alongside Hannah O'Connor. Source: Akito Iwamoto/INPHO

The IRFU recently announced that it will be providing a total of 43 centralised, paid contracts to elite women’s players next season, a development which will see the Union offer professional contracts to women’s 15s players for the first time. 

Now that she’s had a taste of that life, Fryday can see how much more progress can be achieved when elite structures are implemented for players.

“I think back to whenever I was working full-time and commuting up and down to Dublin. Your life feels like it’s nearly just a constant circle of trying to get from one place to the next on time and trying to fit absolutely everything into 24 hours in a day.

“But when you come away on a tour like this, you get a breath, you get a minute to yourself between sessions to recover, to get your review done without trying to look at something else at the same time or cook your dinner. It’s small things like that which make the difference.

You can dedicate and plan your day to be fully focus on rugby as if it were your job. And it has just been an amazing experience. It has been invaluable to this group. It has given us an insight into what it will actually take to become a full-time rugby player.

“It can make you expect more of each other as well. You’re not looking at someone else thinking, ‘Oh she’s just done a full day’s work’ or ‘She has to go into a night shift now after this.’ You know everyone is on the same page when you are in here. We can all call on each other and expect more from each other on the pitch and off the pitch.”

One major additional challenge that this Ireland team has faced during this tour is the searing heat. Fryday addressed the sweltering conditions while speaking to the media at the captain’s run before last week’s Test, and the sun hasn’t eased off since.

“I definitely think the heat takes an extra toll on your body, hydration is huge,” says Fryday as Ireland seek to finish their tour with another win.

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“We want to finish this tour off and be proud of our performances and make family and supporters proud, that’s the over-riding theme, to make people at home proud. So we want to finish on a high, it will take a lot of hard work and we know it won’t be easy but we are looking forward to the challenge of it.

“The whole time we’ve been here, we’re making sure we get the fluids back into us. Even today at the captain’s run it was 40 degrees, and the sweat pumps out of you when you’re standing still. It’s been a huge part of this trip, the recovery, and I think it’s been invaluable learning for the girls around what’s expected in recovery in a national setup.

“It’s next level, it’s not like recovering after a club match, especially on tour, you have such a quick turnaround between matches it becomes your sole focus whenever you’re off the pitch, making sure you get back up and running as quick as possible.”

Ireland team v Japan, Second Test

15. Méabh Deely (Blackrock College RFC/Connacht)
14. Natasja Behan (Blackrock College RFC/Leinster)
13. Aoife Dalton (Tullamore RFC/Leinster)
12. Enya Breen (TBC/Munster)
11. Aoife Doyle (Railway Union RFC/Munster)
10. Dannah O’Brien (Tullow RFC/Leinster)
9. Ailsa Hughes (Railway Union RFC/Leinster)

1. Laura Feely (Blackrock College RFC/Connacht)
2. Neve Jones (Gloucester-Hartpury/Ulster)
3. Linda Djougang (TBC/Leinster)
4. Hannah O’Connor (Blackrock College RFC/Leinster)
5. Nichola Fryday (Exeter Chiefs/Connacht) (captain)
6. Jo Brown (Worcester Warriors/IQ Rugby)
7. Edel McMahon (Exeter Chiefs/IQ Rugby)
8. Grace Moore (Saracens/IQ Rugby)

Replacements:

16. Emma Hooban (Blackrock College RFC/Leinster)
17. Chloe Pearse (UL Bohemian RFC/Munster)
18. Katie O’Dwyer (Railway Union RFC/Leinster)
19. Taryn Schutzler (Saracens/Ulster)
20. Jess Keating (Life University/Leinster)
21. Molly Scuffil-McCabe (Railway Union RFC/Leinster)
22. Leah Tarpey (Tullamore RFC/Leinster)
23. Emma Tilly (MU Barnhall RFC/Leinster)

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