Béibhinn Parsons has already gifted the 2021 Six Nations with a lasting memory. Cardiff Arms Park, the altar for all those dashing Welsh magicians of the 1970s, provided the backdrop to a flawless Ireland try that would not have happened without the Ballinasloe teenager's rare skill set.
Parsons, with 60 metres to run and three defenders blocking the road, was already nearing top speed when Eimear Considine popped her a pass last Saturday. What happened next provides an advertisement in pace, power and swerve, never mind the intellect to finish under the crossbar.
“I was raging I couldn’t get three over the whitewash,” she laughed on Monday morning, “you have to share them out, don’t you?”
Parsons’s brace in the 45-0 victory brings her try tally to five in nine caps since a record-breaking debut against USA in 2018 when still only 16 years old.
The only wonder now is how the IRFU will manage this ready-made global star. How they plan to build around her and 20-year-old flanker Dorothy Wall. And how they ensure these amateurs realise their full athletic potential as the sport turns professional before our eyes.
Ali Miller holds the Irish record with 24 tries from 47 internationals but Parsons wields all the physical weapons to eventually be compared to finishers like Selica Winiata and Portia Woodman. For now, she accepts that France this Saturday in Donnybrook will block a smooth supply to the left wing.
“They’ll have a lot more line speed and put pressure on us, especially in the set-piece,” said Parsons during Avonmore’s ‘Bring Your All’ campaign. “They’ll look at how we play off our 10 and the width we play too as we got a lot of ball out wide against Wales.”
The next leap in her evolution is to stop hugging the touchline and become an unmarkable trail runner.
“Yeah definitely, I think the best wingers get off their wing a lot and it’s a combination of being able to manipulate defenders on the edge and then also punching into midfield.
“That’s something I’ll be conscious of this weekend, and then of course if they commit more players to me or the likes of Dorothy Wall, that means that there’s holes elsewhere. So if they overcommit, we just need to be sharp and attack those holes.”
There is no historical evidence of Ireland physically dominating France. Those famous wins in Ashbourne were a study in outfoxing a bigger pack and defending as if the future of the women’s game depended on it. To some extent it did.
A combination of courage, clever coaching and Hannah Tyrrell’s accuracy off the kicking tee might prove enough to squeeze into a grand finale against Emily Scarratt’s England on April 24th.
"We have a fantastic coaching ticket, it is top class," said Parsons. "Adam Griggs is leading the charge as head coach. We have brought in a scrum coach [former Connacht prop Rob Sweeney] and our defensive coach Kieran Hallett [former Exeter and Ireland under-21s outhalf] is one I really rely on. I send a lot of clips to him. You know, that intercept try against Scotland was all down to the system he introduced.
"Due to our S&C [strength and conditioning] coach Orlaith Curran we are the fittest and fastest we have ever been. I have been hitting max speeds at training, so we feel well conditioned, so we are really grateful for our coaches at the moment. They have been excellent."
Parsons is a member of a rare club of Ireland internationals capped before they played senior club rugby. James Ryan in 2017 and Brian O'Driscoll in 1999 were in Leinster colours a few months after making their debuts on summer tours but the 19-year-old has yet to feature in the All-Ireland League.
“I would definitely like to get my first club cap [for Blackrock]. I think the extended interpros [playing with her native Connacht], the five matches really stood out to us. You are only getting into it by the time it is over if you only have three matches, so I think keep the five-match campaign for the interpros.”
Six Nations take note.
“The AIL is great when it is up and running,” she continued. “Get numbers in, get teams in and make it a really competitive league. We still need to grow the sport, especially on the women’s side – that will only happen if we have a competitive competition.”
Currently, Parsons has no interest in playing club rugby in England, France, New Zealand or wherever the next semi-professional league appears. The UCD undergraduate is part of the contracted Sevens programme but the worry is whether the women’s game in Ireland can move with the rapid pace of her development.
The IRFU’s overall strategic plan is currently being revised but without a properly structured club scene, based around key regional centres, the IRFU target of 5,000 adult players by 2023, up from 1,341 females in 2018, could fall short.
“I haven’t explored [joining a foreign club] and I don’t really want to. I want to get my degree in Ireland and I’m really enjoying Irish rugby and the Sevens programme. I think it’s an excellent place to be, I think it’s where I’ll get the highest quality of coaching at the moment so I’m very happy to stay in Ireland.”