‘We will do our darndest to win it’: Ireland one victory away from achieving pre-tournament goal

Triumph over Scotland in final Six Nations game would secure a third-place finish and direct qualification for the World Cup

It seems extraordinary to think that in the fallout of that 88-10 defeat at Twickenham last Saturday there could be a crock of gold on offer a week later. Yet the Ireland women’s team is within one win over Scotland in their final game of the Guinness Six Nations at the Kingspan Stadium next Saturday (kick-off 2.30pm) of completing their pre-tournament objective, namely a third-place finish and direct qualification for the World Cup in England next year.

Perhaps this tells us more about how far England, and to an extent France, are ahead of the others, and also the closeness of the margins between the other quartet: witness the fluctuating results between them.

Ireland go into the final round of games in fifth place, level on six points with Italy but behind them fractionally on points differential (-74 compared with -72), while just two points behind Scotland in third on eight points.

“We want to put ourselves in a position to achieve what we set out at the beginning,” said head coach Scott Bemand. “I think the Six Nations has got the competition it wanted. France and England are competing hard for the championship and there’s a group of four of us where the results are in our own hands.


“It carries a last weekend feel of a game that matters. It’s on our shores and hopefully we can get the people of Belfast to come to the Kingspan to support it.”

By the time of the kick-off in the Kingspan Stadium, Ireland will also know exactly what will be required of them to secure third place as their match against Scotland is preceded by the Wales-Italy game in Cardiff. Effectively, Ireland have to match Italy’s result, which means Bemand and co could be of a mind to inform the players before kick-off, or focus first on playing Scotland without any initial distractions.

“The Six Nations gets the competition it wants, whether it goes to the final play, the final whistle,” he reasserted, before adding: “We’ll be aware of what’s going on and what it looks like on the touchline. Do we translate that to the players? We have opportunities sometimes to get messages on, but it will depend on what the game needs and what the players need.

“The players will go out there and will do our darndest to win it on our merits, so hopefully that takes care of itself.”

Scotland’s form guide demands respect, for although they lost 46-0 at home to England, they have beaten Wales and Italy away, while extending France to a hard-earned 15-5 win in round two.

“They rattled France in that game,” admitted Bemand. “Brian Easson’s been coaching them for a good while now. I’ve had many a battle with him. Their attack coach Matt Banahan, I played for a couple of years at Bath with him. We can kind of see some bits in their game that we would say are known to us, they’re well organised and they’re going to keep coming.

“It’s going to be a great game, but we’re really confident in our preparation, our identity and what we’re trying to do and how that we’ll hopefully put a winning performance out there.”

On a positive note, although Sarah Delaney has been ruled out with a shoulder injury, “everyone else is fit and available” according to Bemand, and this includes the influential Sam Monaghan.

“I’m putting my hand up, yeah,” said the co-captain herself. “I have hit my markers this week, I believe. I had a good training session this morning.”

Monaghan was also on board with Bemand’s message of parking last Saturday’s experience, although she admitted that was not a straightforward task.

“No, it is never easy. This team cares. We were hurting after that game, as anyone would be, but this is where we have to dust ourselves off. All the players have to put an arm around another player and say this has happened, we have experienced it and now we move on to Saturday.”

As for the bigger picture of England careering toward another Grand Slam as they seek a 29th consecutive Six Nations win next Saturday in Bordeaux, their one-time attack coach Bemand maintained: “I think the fact that people are talking about it [the gulf] shows how much interest there is. Do I think it’s a viable competition? Yes, I do.

“People and the media generally want quick fixes for things. There’s investment going in, there’s focus being put on it. We said after the game last weekend, that arena and that atmosphere is something that our players have to learn.

“Now we’ve got that under our belt and come through, and we’re not derailed. We’ve reviewed it, we’ve parked it, we go forward. We like to think we can keep trying to bridge the gap. How quickly that happens? It’s great to see the teams outside England and France going hell for leather at each other and competing hard.

“Having been a part of it for a long time, the quality throughout is better. It’s our job to try and close that gap on those top two.”

Gerry Thornley

Gerry Thornley

Gerry Thornley is Rugby Correspondent of The Irish Times