Women's rugby:Thanks to their stunning 25-0 victory over England at Ashbourne last Saturday (which ended their opponents’ 13-match winning streak), the Irish women’s team stand on the brink of history, as another triumph against Scotland in Lasswade on February 23rd will give the Fiona Coghlan-led outfit their first-ever Triple Crown success.
Having already lost comprehensively to England on a 76-0 scoreline, Scotland will be rank outsiders against the Irish.
The result against Gary Street’s powerful England team merely provides further evidence of exactly what coach Philip Doyle and his team have achieved as a group.
In stark contrast to their male counterparts, and to a certain extent the men’s under-20 side, there is relatively little known about those who feature in the women’s squad.
Unlike the men’s game, women’s rugby continues to be amateur, and as a result the players who performed major heroics in Ashbourne also have full-time occupations when they are not busy perfecting their rugby skills. Although there are some students among the squad, there are also teachers, physiotherapists, gardaí and sports development officers to be found in the 2013 Six Nations panel.
Towering secondrow star Marie-Louise Reilly is in the latter category and has a hectic schedule as she aims to balance her work in Dublin City Council with her rugby career but the Old Belvedere forward is grateful for the flexible attitude of her employers.
“The Council are very good, because they give us special leave to let girls play for Ireland, which is a great support and a great help to have.
“I suppose playing rugby is helpful in my job, because you’re trying to introduce new sports to young people in Cabra,” said Reilly.
“It makes it easier if they have an idea that you play rugby yourself, and they are willing to give it a go. Even today when I came in to work people were asking ‘how’d you get on at the weekend in the match?’. It’s great that they have an interest as well.”
However, Reilly is one of the lucky ones in this regard, as there are others in the squad who find it hard to get the time off. For those who are also involved with the Ireland Sevens team, it is especially difficult.
“For a lot of the girls, it’s the issue of trying to balance work to get the days off to play for Ireland. A lot of them have to use their annual leave. That can be difficult for them, and for the girls that are going on to play Sevens they’ll have that extra difficulty. I think as soon as the Six Nations finishes, they’ll be in China for two weeks. A few of them have been wondering how they’ll find the time to fit that in.”
Last year’s trip to play France received headlines for all the wrong reasons. A missed connection for a 800km TGV trip to Pau meant they arrived at 7am for a 3.30pm kick-off only to be narrowly defeated by the French. Reilly is quick to reveal this was just a once-off unfortunate incident.
“I think that was just a once-off to be honest. Our travel arrangements are usually excellent. The IRFU look after us very well. We get very good standard of hotels, and our backroom team is excellent.
“Everything is looked after in those terms. We have nutritonists, match analysts and everything like that. With regards to the travel arrangements, we still felt we left the game after us,” the Meath native added.
They are making the headlines for all the right reasons in 2013, however, and with games against Scotland, France and Italy still to come, Reilly and her team are hopeful their dismantling of the English can be a stepping stone to something altogether more monumental.
“Definitely. A result like that is obviously headline-grabbing and will bring attention to the women’s game. I was speaking to other people in the crowd at the game, and I think there was nearly 1,500 people at the game”.
“For a lot of them, if it was their first ever game; they’d have realised the magnitude of the result.
“Irrespective of the scoreline, they were really taken aback by the tackling that was going in, the skills, and the speed. They was the three things they couldn’t get over at the end of the game.”
Ireland squad v England
15 Niamh Briggs
Age: 28. Height: 5ft 6in. Club: Munster/UL Bohemian. Caps: 27. Occupation: Garda.
14 Ashleigh Baxter
Age: 21. Height: 5ft 5in. Club: Ulster/Belfast Harlequins. Caps: 6. Occupation: Student.
13 Lynne Cantwell
Age: 31. Height: 5ft 3in. Club: Exiles/Richmond. Caps: 73. Occupation: Physiotherapist.
12 Jenny Murphy
Age: 23. Height: 5ft 9in. Club: Leinster/Old Belvedere. Caps: 5. Occupation: PE teacher.
11 Alison Miller
Age: 28. Height: 5ft 5in. Club: Connacht/Portlaoise. Caps: 3. Occupation: PE student.
10 Nora Stapleton
Age: 29. Height: 5ft 9in. Club: Leinster/Old Belvedere. Caps: 14. Occupation: GAA Promotional Officer
9 Larissa Muldoon
Age: 21. Height: 5ft 4in. Club: Exiles/UWIC. Caps: 11. Occupation: Student, Cardiff Metropolitan University. 1 Fiona Coghlan
Age: 31. Height: 5ft 9in. Club: Leinster/UL Bohemian. Caps: 65. Occupation: PE and Maths Teacher.
2 Gillian Bourke
Age: 28. Height: 5ft 5in. Club: Munster/UL Bohemian. Caps: 32. Occupation: Video Analyst.
3 Ailis Egan
Age: 29. Height: 5ft 8in. Club: Leinster/Old Belvedere. Caps: 8. Occupation: Fundraising Administrator, MS Ireland.
4 Sophie Spence
Age: 25. Height: 5ft11in. Club: Exiles/Mowden Park. Caps: 6. Occupation: Teacher.
5 Marie-Louise Reilly
Age: 32. Height: 6ft 4In. Club: Leinster/Old Belvedere. Caps: 21. Occupation: Sports Development Officer, Dublin City Council.
6 Siobhan Fleming
Age: 31. Height: 5ft 10in. Club: Munster/Tralee. Caps: 6. Occupation: Special Needs Assistant.
7 Claire Molloy
Age: 24. Height: 5ft 5in. Club: Exiles/Bristol. Caps: 22. Occupation: Medical student, Cardiff University.
8 Joy Neville
Age: 29. Height: 5ft 9in. Club: Munster/UL Bohemian. Caps: 65. Occupation: Student Development Officer, LIT.
16 Stacey-Lee Kennedy
Age: 26. Height: 5ft 4in. Club: Ulster/City of Derry. Caps: 5. Occupation: Customer support agent, Sky Ireland.
17 Fiona Hayes
Age: 30. Height: 5ft 6in. Club: Munster/UL Bohemian. Caps: 1. Occupation: Youth worker.
18 Lauren Day
Age: 27. Height: 5ft 9in. Club: Exiles/Waterloo. Caps: 18. Occupation: Teacher.
19 Leigh Dargan
Age: 31. Height: 5ft 10in. Club: Exiles/Saracens. Caps: 31. Occupation: Regional Business Manager.
20 Laura Guest
Age: 27. Height: 5ft 8in. Club: Munster/Highfield. Caps: 27. Occupation: Secondary School Teacher.
21 Amy Davis
Age: 27. Height: 5ft 5in. Club: Ulster/Blackrock. Caps: 26. Occupation: Strength Conditioning Coach.
22 Grace Davitt
Age: 30. Height: 5ft 3in. Club: Ulster/Cooke. Caps: 43. Occupation: Maintenance Technician, Belfast Docks.
23 Niamh Kavanagh
Age: 25. Height: 5ft 10in. Club: Munster/UL Bohs. Caps: 11. Occupation: Student Union president, LIT.