Sam Monaghan knows devil is in Ireland’s performance detail for England game

Irish secondrow speaks of tough mental game after criticism of recent team performances

Ireland’s Sam Monaghan being tackled by Charlotte Escudero of France in the Women's Six Nations. Photograph: INPHO/Ryan Byrne

Sam Monaghan knows better than most what’s coming down the line when Ireland face England in the Women’s Six Nations Championship match in Musgrave Park on Saturday (2.15pm), even though she has never played against them before.

Seven of the England squad are her team-mates at the Gloucester-Hartpury club, and Monaghan shares a house with one, prop Maud Muir.

Currently Ireland’s player of the year, Monaghan’s standing in rugby can be gauged from the fact that the Gloucester persuaded her to sign from Wasps last summer.

The 29-year-old secondrow, who was born in New York, has a background in camogie, basketball and Gaelic football, playing the latter with her club Navan O’Mahony’s and inter-county with Meath.


Athletic, mobile and with a penchant for the well-judged offload, Monaghan is a key player in an Ireland team that faces into its biggest test, not just of rugby but of character.

England, beaten in the World Cup final last autumn by hosts New Zealand, have ridden roughshod over Scotland (58-7), Italy (68-5) and Wales (59-3) to this point in the tournament.

Ireland offer a counterpoint to that success in terms of results but can do nothing more than be a better version of themselves ahead of Saturday. To expect otherwise is both unrealistic and unfair. There were issues coming into the tournament, not least the fact that Ireland didn’t qualify for the last World Cup and therefore lost out on the development and evolution that their rivals enjoyed.

Monaghan refers to that point during a chat to launch a Guinness initiative to try to ensure Saturday’s game is a sell-out. She is trying to remain positive. “We are improving each game,” Monaghan says.

“I would be sitting here holding my hands up if I thought we were going backwards, but from the Wales game, we are going forward.

“It’s about taking the small wins, keep going forward, and bring the inexperienced players up with you.” She doesn’t sugar-coat the challenge of remaining upbeat when confronted by disparaging remarks, and not just in social media commentary.

“I’m not going to lie, it is tough mentally. You set out to do your best. You want to do your family and the country proud. We never go out there to do any less than our best,” Monaghan says.

“Mentally you have to have resilience if you’re going to be playing on the international stage. Some people learn the hard way about being able to switch off from that outside noise.

“In a rugby sense, I have found the last couple of weeks tough, but I have been trying to switch off from it and put myself mentally and physically in the best place possible for Saturday.

“Everyone cares what people think, it’s human nature. You look at some of the comments online and you’re like ‘Agh!’

“It does hurt because you’re putting all you have out there for 80 minutes, and then you come off the pitch and see them [online comments].

“I have to say, one of the things that has really been keeping me going is the support from my family, friends, some of the England girls, some of my club team-mates, the crowd that has been there.”

Switching from bigger picture to match detail, Monaghan explains that training this week has gone up a couple of levels, players demanding more of each other and being physical.

Former Ireland captain Niamh Briggs left drained at external noise surrounding women’s rugby teamOpens in new window ]

“A big focus for us this week is our execution and set-piece, especially our lineout [and] getting after England’s breakdown, trying to slow down their ruck speed,” she says.

“If we can slow that down and give time for our defence to get set, and then bring line speed, we can put them under a bit more pressure.

“We know England are a big size, we know we are going to have to get double hits in, try to get our tackle completion rate up because that has been poor over the last couple of weeks, although it has improved each game.

“I do think that is a massive area of work-on for us. And then, as I have said, our composure in the scoring zone.

“We have got to the right places, but it is that last piece of execution of that last bit to our flow, our cohesion as a team that needs to improve.”

John O'Sullivan

John O'Sullivan

John O'Sullivan is an Irish Times sports writer