Lynne Cantwell: ‘I’m an optimistic person. But I’m not a dreamer’
Ireland’s most-capped rugby player Lynne Cantwell is aiming high at the IRB World Cup in France
Ireland’s Lynne Cantwell: “We do want to win it, that’s very much what we talk about”. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho
Officially she has 83 caps, the most decorated Irish woman rugby player. Unofficially, with the uncapped friendly matches and the Sevens games she has played with Ireland, her total reaches well over the iconic 100. But Lynne Cantwell has not been consumed by reaching landmarks.
“I’m sure I’m over the 100 mark,” she says. “But it doesn’t really matter.”
The World Cup which begins on Friday against USA is a more pressing date for the outside centre, who opted out of Ireland’s final warm-up win over Wales a few weeks ago. Her first injury, a niggle, in a 13-year career is possibly more remarkable than a century of caps.
Like a number of the Irish team, Dubliner Cantwell was a convert from another sport, track and field. A 400m runner, she drifted from athletics but when the then Irish coach Donal O’Leary, who was based in Limerick where she studied Sports Science, spotted raw potential, he fast-tracked her into the Irish set-up. She was bitten.
“I fell out of love with athletics when I was in first or second year. Everybody played rugby because it was all encompassing. It was very much the done thing. Men played rugby and women played rugby and that was cool,” she says.
“I got quite lucky because the Irish coach at the time Donal O’Leary was based in Limerick. I got on board there and got fast -tracked on to the Irish team. My skill set was I could run, get the ball and run. In hindsight I picked up things pretty quickly. My family were a Gaelic football family so I always played ball sports.”
The disciplineWhile Cantwell left athletics behind she respects the discipline and attention it instilled, the focus it demanded. Much of her injury-free longevity she puts down to the work ethic she brought with her as well as being the perfect fit for playing at 13. Already mistakenly retired by some in the media, she remains hungry for action.
“My intention is to continue,” she says. “I don’t see my physical ability as a reason to stop. It’s a norm now. You’ve Roger Federer or Serena Williams who are 32 or 33 now. You’ve your soccer players so . . . No doubt those endings are phenomenal and if you look at Jonny Wilkinson or Brian. That’s never motivated me. I just always want to be the best I can be.”
Now approaching her fourth World Cup, an influential figure on the team and vice-captain for the Grand Slam win, her attitude has delivered rich dividends. The Irish set-up offers progressive coaching to the players and that has shaped team opinion about chances this week.
Cantwell saw the 27-7 win over Wales in Malahide on July 20th as the team showing more intent and purpose and a noticeable momentum change.
In the early World Cups, when players were less convinced, there was a perception that “we were just participants”. Maybe the 2013 Grand Slam win was a catalyst but ambition has grown stronger.
“We do want to win it, that’s very much what we talk about,” she says. “It’s an ultimatum. It’s like ‘girls this type of rucking’ or ‘girls this type of tackling is not going to win us a World Cup’. This is how we speak. Some people could look at the pool (USA, New Zealand, Kazakhstan) and say ‘yeah that is the pool of death’. But I’m really excited about playing. We’ve never in our history of 15s played New Zealand before.
“They are, really, really impressive and apart from what they’ve done in Sevens this season (cleaned up) they are a very strong team, a force to be reckoned with. But I know what we can do too. In the Wales game we were only starting to click and that’s a really cool place to be, to be peaking at this time.”
Unlike the men’s game, like Cantwell, many of the game’s leading women’s Sevens players are gearing up to ‘cross over’ and compete in France.
New Zealand, who Ireland face in their second match, will arrive with an unmatched record and when they face Kazakhstan they will be bidding for a fifth successive world title.
They are not alone in selecting Sevens stars in their squad with more than 50 players across the 12 teams having been involved in last season’s Series.
“Pool stages are going to be tough and after that we have it within ourselves to analyse any team, to decode any side. That’s where my sights are,” says Cantwell. “I’m an optimistic person. But I’m not a dreamer...”