Greg McWilliams: ‘We will always put on the jersey and fight for every inch we can’

Ireland women’s coach says his side have prepared well for daunting encounter with England in Cork

Ireland head coach Greg McWilliams. Photograph: Tom Maher/Inpho

The question was a little unfair, loaded in terms of the answer required, but Greg McWilliams handled it with just the right amount of equivocation. It’s what it deserved in asking the Ireland head coach whether he thought his team could beat England in the Women’s Six Nations Championship match at Musgrave Park on Saturday afternoon (2.15).

An England team that came so close to winning last year’s World Cup final, narrowly beaten by hosts New Zealand. An England team who had racked up three thumping victories over Scotland (58-7), Italy (68-5) and Wales (59-3) in the Six Nations. An England team whose coach Simon Middleton expressed concern that the tournament could not continue in its current guise of an annual shoot-out between his team and France for overall honours.

McWilliams said: “I think we can [win]. I think with anything when you are preparing for battle you have to go out and be confident no matter what you are doing. It would not be right to say otherwise. We don’t think about results.

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“It would be the same with any team that I have ever coached, that if we get our process right, that’s the most important thing. Whatever happens after that is the result of how prepared you are, how well planned you are against a challenge.


“There is no doubt that England are a tremendous side, but our job is to put a plan in place to make us competitive and then you just need to see what happens when you are out there. Sport is a wonderful thing; our job is to be as competitive as possible. It’s always the way.”

Do the players believe? McWilliams continued: “We have been testing the players this week especially in our Tuesday session, putting them into situations that are uncomfortable and making them work hard for each other. There is a really good energy. I know that the squad is excited.

“Our job as a group is to make sure that we are as prepared as possible. That’s all we are focusing on. The first whistle comes, and we are hoping that we get stuck in and can be competitive. What happens after that will be a result of sport and that’s exciting.”

England head coach Middleton expressed sympathy for Ireland’s plight, a team that suffered defeats to Wales, France and Italy, but it won’t extend to what happens on the pitch. The visitors will be ruthless.

Away from the game discussion he expressed a wish for the tournament. Speaking to the BBC he said: “It’s all dependent on how the unions get behind it.

“The rate of acceleration and closing the gap will all depend on funding. We have to make these games more competitive. We’ve been in this situation for a long time. We know going back eight years, Ireland were a real force, France, ourselves, and Wales beat an England side in 2015.

“I’m not sure it can continue in the guise it is now, where it’s always going to come down to the last game, England and France, because that’s not good for anybody.”

When Middleton’s words were put to McWilliams the Ireland head coach said: “In any competition it is always going to be better if you have teams that are competitive with each other. We are aiming for that; we want to be at the top table. We are just concentrating on what we can control.

“We are working hard at being competitive in the short window. It is not just about the mental side, being up for the fight, it is about being smart as well, showing signs of what we are working hard on in camp, our system, both sides of the ball and seeing continued improvements.

“For every plan we need to know where we are, we know where we have come from, and we have a very clear idea of where we want to go. Where we want to go is to be competitive with the best sides in the world. The only way to get there is by working hard, being honest as a group and owning our performance; that’s where we are from week to week.”

McWilliams is not looking for any favours nor does he bemoan what some others are quick to label an uneven playing field. “Not at all. That’s not the way we are, we are Irish. If you look at Irish teams in football and rugby, we will always put on the jersey and fight for every inch we can. That will never change.”

John O'Sullivan

John O'Sullivan

John O'Sullivan is an Irish Times sports writer