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'I am a bit of the eternal optimist. But like everyone, there is always a balance'

Sene Naoupu on being grateful, growing the game, and taking on France.

Ireland centre Sene Naoupu.
Ireland centre Sene Naoupu.
Image: Robbie Stephenson/INPHO

THE POSITIVITY SURROUNDING the Ireland women’s rugby team this week has been particularly welcome given the difficulties experienced over the last year or so.

Playing their first game in six months, Ireland exploded out of the traps to thrash Wales 45-0 last Saturday, with the wonderful individual displays of Beibhinn Parsons, Dorothy Wall and Hannah Tyrrell taking all the attention away from what was a pretty desperate second half in Cardiff.

The result means Ireland can book a final round meeting with England for a shot at the 2021 Six Nations title, should they beat France in their round two game in Donnybrook this weekend. 

Ireland didn’t get to play France in last year’s tournament, with their final round match postponed and eventually cancelled due to Covid restrictions. Adam Griggs’ side lost 47-17 to the French in Donnybrook in 2019 and were beaten 24-0 in France a year previously.

These are the games Ireland need to win if this squad is to really capture the imagination.

Belief certainly won’t be an issue, and centre Sene Naoupu says Ireland will hold no fear going into the game, with their confidence hardened by the progress seen across the 20 training camps between their game against Italy last October and the start of this year’s championship.

“We’re capable of competing with the best. We are,” Naoupu says.

“We believed that, and we’ve been working extremely hard. We have world class coaching, world class facilities, we’re well resourced. We’ve had time (together), that has given us that sense of belief in what we can do, but we just need to test it against the best in the world, so we are looking forward to that exact opportunity this weekend.”

sene-naoupu-is-tackled-by-hannah-jones-and-georgia-evans Naoupu scored a try and played the full 80 minutes against Wales. Source: Robbie Stephenson/INPHO

There were concerns the game would be postponed or moved to an alternative venue due to newly-introduced rules which require arrivals from France to fulfil strict quarantine on arrival in Ireland.

However the game will go ahead as planned, and Naoupu says the uncertainty surrounding the game earlier in the week wasn’t an issue for a squad who have become accustomed to dealing with disruption. 

“We’ve had to be flexible and adaptable this whole time, the group is pretty resilient. We’ve all been working extremely hard for each other and for those who have been supporting us all this time. So it’s one of those things.

“Ciara Griffin, our captain, said it best when she said it’s the most resilient group we’ve ever been a part of because of the challenges we’ve had to face. Certainly this is no different.

“For us as a group, I suppose it’s part of the mental toughness that we have as a group and how focused we are.”

Naoupu’s own mental resilience has been tested in the past year following a health scare which required her to have a tumour removed from her neck.

Thankfully the experienced centre made a quick recovery and was back in Adam Griggs’ squad come the autumn. She was wearing the No 12 shirt again against Wales last weekend, scoring a try and going the full 80 minutes in Cardiff, a productive outing on cap number 39 alongside debutant Eve Higgins.

“My voice is pretty much 90% back, so the girls are probably not enjoying it,” Naoupu laughs, “but yeah, I’m able to communicate a bit better and breathe a bit better (now).”

Even in a year as challenging at 2020, Naoupu never really lost her positive outlook on life. 

“I think I am a bit of the eternal optimist. But yeah, like everyone, there is always a balance.

“I’ve so many things to be grateful for, why would you not be positive? We’re pretty fortunate to have these games being played. For us as rugby players, we just want to play games and we’ve the opportunity to do that.

We’ve worked extremely hard over the months to get to this point where we have the opportunity to play and do what we love with the team that I love, and it’s just one of those things where when you are thankful for what you have, you tend to be a bit more positive.”

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Naoupu was speaking today to help launch Guinness’ ‘Never Settle’ campaign, which aims to make rugby a more inclusive and accessible game for everyone regardless of gender, race or sexuality.

While last Saturday’s win over Wales unfortunately clashed with Leinster’s Champions Cup meeting with Exeter, Naoupu says this year’s standalone window for the Six Nations is already helping increases visibility for the women’s game.

“You can already notice a difference in a few days. You know, it’s amazing having people see the game. Visibility is one of the key aspects of making sure everyone belongs and everyone is respected in the game… But to have that even over the last few days on the back of our first match is a positive thing. So it’s just around the momentum of that.

sene-naoupu Naoupu during an Ireland training session. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

“The standalone (Six Nations) window has given us a super opportunity.

“Over the weekend for example, after playing Wales, we got messages and people speaking about the males in the household being really impressed about women’s rugby and our squad and those sorts of things.

“As a team, we know we can be much better than what we were, absolutely we had some special moments but there are other areas of our game we can be better.

“But at the same time, to have the conversations in the households not just from those who are already converted and who are already women’s rugby fans, but also the males in the house, that’s also really important too because we need them as champions.”

Sene Naoupu was speaking at the launch of Guinness’ ‘Never Settle’ campaign, which plans to tackle the lack of visibility for women’s sport and specifically representation of women in rugby by expanding the profiles of women’s rugby. 

About the author:

Ciarán Kennedy

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