Monaghan was player of the match for Ireland. Ryan Byrne/INPHO

'Sammy Bill' Monaghan goes from strength to strength in Ireland's second row

The Wasps lock has impressed in this Six Nations.

THE DEFT, SKILLFUL offloads have earned Ireland lock Sam Monaghan the rather slick nickname of ‘Sammy Bill,’ in reference to New Zealand’s former offload guru Sonny Bill Williams.

The 28-year-old’s ability to play the ball out of contact certainly caught the eye in Ireland’s defeats to Wales and France and though there weren’t any of the trademark offloads yesterday during their 29-8 win over Italy, Monaghan delivered a huge performance to be named player of the match.

The Wasps lock was Ireland’s top ball-carrier with 12 and made huge dents in the Italian defence, breaking five tackles as she consistently got her team over the gainline. There were two passes in there too as Monaghan underlined that she is suited to the ambitious style of play Ireland are pursuing under Greg McWilliams.

Defensively, Monaghan got through nine tackles and again made her athleticism count as she denied Italy momentum by slowing up their ball-carriers.

With Ireland delivering an improved performance at the scrum and lineout, Monaghan played her part in the set-piece, while she also contributed to the speed of the Irish possession with some good work at the attacking rucks.

Monaghan has stood out as one of the best Irish players in recent weeks and perhaps even one of the best players in the Six Nations so far.

It’s not bad going for someone who only took up rugby five years ago, having previously been a Meath underage footballer as well as playing basketball, camogie, and soccer.

Monaghan moved to Brighton in the UK at that stage and joined Lewes RFC simply to make some friends, but within a year she had signed for top club Wasps and then her Ireland debut came in 2021.

katie-odwyer-and-sam-monaghan-celebrate-at-the-final-whistle Monaghan [number 5] celebrates Ireland's win. Ben Brady / INPHO Ben Brady / INPHO / INPHO

While Monaghan showed glimpses of her quality for Ireland during their failed World Cup qualifying campaign last year, we are now really starting to see the scale of her potential in the green jersey as her power and skill level come to the fore.

Her second row pairing with captain Nichola Fryday is still really in its infancy and they will continue to push Ireland’s set-piece work, but that combination is one area of real promise for Ireland.

“She’s a quality second row,” said Fryday of Monaghan after the win over Italy.

“She has been doing it in the Prem all year. I’m glad she is finally getting the recognition she deserves. She’s a baller, extremely skillful. I’m delighted for her.”

Head coach McWilliams has been equally pleased to see Monaghan stepping up and he wants to see others follow her example.

“I just want to give her the ball more,” said McWilliams. “Our goal is that players come into camp thinking it’s Christmas Eve and they’re excited to come in. We allow them, hopefully, to be themselves and be able to bring their personality.

“She’s becoming a leader. This girl is someone who has got great potential for us, one of a number of players who are really coming on.

“Christy Haney did great, she worked really well, and for Katie O’Dwyer to come on as a prop was really important.

“Edel McMahon was outstanding, you just hope the players are arriving, feeling they’re in a positive environment where they can improve and see the clarity in the plan.”

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