Refocused England will be formidable opponents, especially at Twickenham
In many ways they have been a benchmark for us
Ireland’s Alison Miller goes over against England in last year’s Six Nations game in Ashbourne.
Saturday will be our second time playing at Twickenham. Ten years ago we were the undercard so now we are the main event, right? But seriously so much has changed.
The feeling didn’t last long as we were hurried not only out of the dressing room but the stadium. We could hear the crowd across the road as we huddled around a television in the RFU offices.
The English girls hadn’t been shooed off the premises but in a show of solidarity they joined us. Such happenings were the norm back then. We dealt with all of them with our usual good humour.
Things are different now but it took an awfully long time. Point is we understand better than most that respect has to be earned. Especially from the England women’s rugby team.
Until last season our history against them made for grim reading. They are by far the best funded and organised women’s union in the world. Giving credit where it’s due, they had an admirable development pathway in place years before any other nation. In many ways they have been a benchmark for us.
My first cap was against England in 2001. We lost 79-0. The plan back then was damage limitation. The scrum walked backwards from the put-in, our scrumhalves didn’t know what ‘passing from the base’ meant and wing was an awfully lonely place.
It wasn’t until 2008 at Sunbury that we had had enough. That’s when our entire belief system changed. They were chasing a third successive Grand Slam yet with three minutes to go we trailed 10-7 as they threw everything at us. But we kept blasting them backwards.
We fell into a trance that day. There is no other way to describe it. All we wanted was English blood! I love telling people about that match although I can’t really remember it. I have vague images of flinging myself at every white jersey that came down my channel and leaping back to my feet to do it over and over again.
Defending in rugby is 90 per cent attitude. Technique is important but with enough practice it becomes automatic, but a genuinely punishing hit requires real conviction. When that happens there you hear it in contact and see it in your team-mates eyes.
England eventually won 17-7 due to a late try, down to fatigue more than anything, but a seed of doubt had been planted in their minds. Afterwards we were distraught while they looked relieved. When the pain of the defeat subsided the feeling of what might have been made them beatable.