Thursday 2 February 2023 Dublin: 8°C
Ben Brady/INPHO Ireland Women are set to tour Japan.
# Development
Ireland Women set for their first-ever summer tour in Japan
Head coach Greg McWilliams feels the tour will be crucial in developing Ireland’s players.

IRELAND WOMEN ARE set for their first-ever summer tour in August, with a two-Test trip to Japan on the cards.

Head coach Greg McWilliams confirmed yesterday that plans for the tour are at an advanced stage and while he or the IRFU didn’t officially confirm the destination, The42 understands that Ireland are set to visit Japan.

The tour will be a major boost for Ireland as they look to continue their development under McWilliams, who took over as head coach in December.

With an August trip on the cards, Ireland may well again be without the 7s internationals who recently left their Six Nations training camp ahead of the next leg of the World Series. 

The Ireland 7s are hoping to qualify for this year’s World Cup, which takes place in September in Cape Town.

However, a summer tour against the Japanese, who are ranked 12th in the world compared to Ireland in seventh, would be an excellent development opportunity for McWilliams’ squad.

“The tour is really exciting but the specifics aren’t confirmed yet and I was told to wait until it came out through the official channels,” said McWilliams yesterday.

“I do know it will be a long flight, it’s outstanding. It’s going to be important for our group of players who will get an opportunity to continue working on what we have started during the Six Nations.

“And there are a couple of ‘worldie’ players from the Ireland U18s and NTS [National Talent Squad] that I’m excited to be working with during the summer as well. They’re going to have really long Ireland careers.

“So it’s about having a diamond, or a number of diamonds, who can add to our group. And it’s also about giving the Six Nations squad another opportunity to keep developing, working on their fitness and skill levels, game understanding.

greg-mcwilliams Laszlo Geczo / INPHO Ireland head coach Greg McWilliams. Laszlo Geczo / INPHO / INPHO

“It’s massive for us to be going on the tour and it’s all part of the bigger plan, the transition period we talked about post-World Cup when hopefully we’ll be locked and loaded to start the 2023 season. And that’s maybe where we can close that gap, that’s where my head is at. I’m so excited but I can’t give specifics, unfortunately.”

It’s a thrilling prospect for Irish women’s rugby, although the more pressing concern for McWilliams and co. is dealing with the toughest challenge in the sport this Sunday.

Ireland travel to Leicester to take on England in Round 4 of the Six Nations, with the world-number-one-ranked and fully-professional English team currently on a 21-game winning streak.

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McWilliams’ job is all the harder for losing seven players back to the Ireland 7s squad and while he and the IRFU have stressed underlined again that women’s rugby is all one programme and that everyone is working together, there is no doubt it makes things far more difficult for this weekend.

“It has been really challenging,” admitted McWilliams. “It has made me think about things differently. You have to challenge yourself and I have staff who challenge me, making sure we have the best plan and the best road forward for the group.

“There have been good connections with Aiden [McNulty, the Ireland 7s head coach] which has been good. That makes things a little bit easier as well. The players are disappointed they can’t play against England but they also understand the bigger picture.

“There is a pretty big [Rugby Europe 7s] tournament on this summer which is important to gain entry to the Sevens World Cup later this year. We talked about this last year with David Nucifora [the IRFU's performance director] and Anthony Eddy [the former director of women's and 7s rugby] at the time and they were expressing that this was the plan.

“They certainly got my contribution to what I felt was the right way to go about things and we’re sticking with that. Nothing has changed from that point of view.

“But it’s one of those things. You do wake up after the Italy game and the realisation kicks in that you’re going to be missing nine or 10 players. But at the same time, I have faith in the players I do have. It’s a great opportunity for them.

“So far the players have responded brilliantly. They’re excited and I’m excited.”

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