A lot at stake for women's rugby with key trip to Wales
Irelands Niamh Briggs and Lynne Cantwell with Laura Steven of Scotland during last season's Six Nations.
The team have big plans for the Six Nations - and the long-term goal is World Cup qualification
There are, of course, several ways to define “fun”, but that’s the word chosen by Irish rugby captain Fiona Coghlan to describe the squad’s visit to the Curragh earlier this month where the players took on an assault course under the watchful eye of an army sergeant.
It was a “surprise” day out for the squad, “we didn’t know where we were going, we were just told to get in our cars”, but one they, somehow, enjoyed.
“Everyone was coming out with smiles on their faces – it was horrific, but brilliant,” said Coghlan.
That, then, is the nature of the preparations the players have been undergoing ahead of the start of their Six Nations campaign away to Wales next Sunday, a 39-7 win over Spain in Ashbourne two weekends ago allowing coach Philip Doyle to do some fine-tuning, while also giving him a chance to give all 26 players in the match-day panel a run-out.
There’s a lot more at stake than usual in this year’s Six Nations, namely qualification for the 2014 World Cup. Hosts France and 2010 runners-up England are already assured of their places, with the third and fourth teams, based on aggregate results from the 2012 and 2013 Six Nations, joining them.
Ireland finished third last year, equalling their highest ever placing, and with home games against the perennial top two, the eight-in-a-row seeking England and the French, Coghlan believes the possibility is there to top that achievement.
First, though, is a testing trip to Wales, where Ireland have lost on their last three visits. “Yeah, it’s a tough one to open with, we’ve had trouble away to Wales but we’d really want to start on a good foot. To be sure of qualifying for the World Cup we really have to win three games, beyond that you’d be relying on what other teams have done, so we need a good start.”
“Last year we had consistency in our performances, which we hadn’t had before, we played well in each of the games. And this year the competition for places has gone up again, new girls have come in and others have returned from injury, so they’re all pushing for places.”
“We have a good few Exiles in the squad now, younger players too whose skills are fantastic. A lot of them were playing from young, all the way through ‘minis’ and youths, they didn’t just take up the sport at 18, 19, like most of us did, myself included.”
They need the greater resources too in what will be a busy spell for women’s rugby, also ahead this year the World Cup Sevens in June, which Ireland qualified for in Moscow last year – that squad’s preparations begin in China in March.
“All but two of the girls in Moscow are involved in the 15s, which obviously is our primary focus at the moment. With so much going on, it takes a lot of organising from the management of both squads, but it’s an exciting time for women’s rugby.
“When I started out we were fighting for any kind of support or attention, now I suppose it’s become more ‘socially acceptable’, if that’s the right term. People are fine now with women playing rugby, and the fact that the Sevens will be in the next Olympics gives the game another boost, more publicity.”
For now, all thoughts are on that Welsh game and getting their Six Nations campaign off to a winning start, with England, the only side in the competition they have yet to beat, to follow in Ashbourne a week later.
“Our goal is World Cup qualification,” says Coghlan, “we’ll see what we can do after that.”
Sunday, Feb 3rd Wales v Ireland Talbot Athletic Ground, 1.30pm
Saturay, Feb 9th Ireland v England Ashbourne, 1pm
Saturday, Feb 23rd Scotland v Ireland Lasswade, 2pm
Friday, Mar 8th Ireland v France Ashbourne, 7.30pm
Sunday, Mar 17th Italy v Ireland Milan, 2.30pm
Christine Arthurs (Connacht), Ashleigh Baxter (Ulster), Gillian Bourke (Munster), Niamh Briggs (Munster), Lynne Cantwell (Richmond), Nikki Caughey (Ulster), Fiona Coghlan (capt, Leinster), Leigh Dargan (Exiles), Amy Davis (Ulster), Grace Davitt (Ulster), Lauren Day (Exiles), Ailis Egan (Leinster), Nicole Fitzgerald (Munster), Paula Fitzpatrick (Leinster), Siobhan Fleming (Munster), Laura Guest (Munster), Fiona Hayes (Munster), Hat Hewitt (Exiles), Shannon Houston (Leinster), Ashling Hutchings (Munster), Niamh Kavanagh (Munster), Stacey-Lea Kennedy (Ulster), Sharon Lynch (Leinster), Alison Miller (Connacht), Claire Molloy (Exiles), Larissa Muldoon (Exiles), Jenny Murphy (Leinster), Joy Neville (Munster), Heather O’Brien (Munster), Fiona O’Brien (Ulster), Laura Quinn (Exiles), Marie Louise Reilly (Leinster), Sophie Spence (Exiles), Nora Stapleton (Leinster)