A particularly trying period for Irish women's rugby has been compounded by the surprising news that the national team captain Ciara Griffin has decided to retire immediately following Saturday's autumn Test against Japan at the RDS, and at the age of just 27.
Commenting on her decision, Griffin said: “It has been a childhood dream come true to play for my country. Being afforded the opportunity to captain the national team has been the highest honour. It has been an incredible journey filled with many highs and lows and I am very grateful for all the life skills I have developed through my involvement in high-performance sport.
“It is a decision I have not come to lightly and after discussing it with my family ahead of the autumn Tests, it is now time for me to turn my focus to my life outside of rugby and begin a new chapter. I would like to thank everyone for their unwavering support, and I look forward to supporting the team going forward.”
Griffin made her Test debut against Wales in the 2016 Women's Six Nations, and since then the Kerry native and UL Bohemians and Munster flanker has gone on to win 40 caps for Ireland. But next Saturday will be her last.
This follows Ireland’s failure to qualify for even the repechage route into the World Cup in New Zealand when losing to Spain and Scotland in Parma last September and the storm created by the comments last week from Anthony Eddy, the IRFU director of womens and sevens rugby, when seemingly attributing those defeats entirely to the players while absolving himself or the IRFU of any blame.
Like many team-mates and former players, Griffin made clear her disappointment with Eddy’s remarks and declared herself “the proudest person in Ireland” after last Friday’s 20-10 win over the USA.
In a statement confirming the news, the IRFU paid fulsome tribute to Griffin. “The 27-year-old has been a totemic figure for Ireland in the backrow, demonstrating outstanding leadership qualities through her on-field performances and, off the pitch, in inspiring a new generation of players.
“A natural leader, Griffin’s passion for the green jersey has been evident since her Test debut against Wales in the 2016 Women’s Six Nations, and since then the Kerry native has become a standard bearer on and off the field, driving others around her and producing some memorable performances for Ireland.
Outgoing head coach Adam Griggs, for whom next Saturday's game will likewise be his last in charge, also paid tribute to Griffin. "Ciara stood out to me right from our first training session as a genuine leader and someone that players respect and listen to.
“She wears her heart on her sleeve and it is that leadership style along with her passion and dedication to making people and the team better that has always been so effective.
“Ciara has led the way with her standards and what it takes to be a first class international, and I know in doing this has inspired so many young players to take up rugby and try to emulate her own journey. Irish rugby will miss her, and we wish her all the best in retirement and the next chapter of her life.”