Ireland coach Tierney responds to Sevens player controversy

Women’s coach hit back at questions over removal of players from Six Nations squad

Victory should dominate any sporting narrative. Despite the loss of seemingly irreplaceable backs like captain and place kicker Niamh Briggs, Sene Naoupu, Hannah Tyrrell and Ali Miller, Ireland remain on course for the Grand Slam.

However, post-match, coach Tom Tierney gave the written media a tetchy, and at times non-responsive, interview following last week's revelations that Naoupu, Tyrrell and Miller were being switched from the Six Nations squad to play the Las Vegas leg of the Sevens World Series.

“Strange week? Not really. Thankfully, I’ve been used to publicity, media stuff like that,” Tierney said in reference to unspecified events during his own time as a professional rugby player. “No, it’s grand. We didn’t let the girls get negatively affected, which was critical, and thankfully they weren’t. That’s all I was worried about.”

But before the end of this three minute interview Tierney stated that the players had been affected.


When did Tierney know the three girls would be switched to Sevens?

“When myself and [IRFU women’s director of rugby] Anthony [Eddy]sat down.”


“I can’t remember.”

Eddy told The Irish Times last Thursday that the decision was made several months ago, and that the three girls knew well in advance, yet the rest of the Ireland squad were only informed at a training camp last weekend.

Tierney was asked if the situation proved disruptive to his role as 15s coach (he is also the Sevens assistant coach).

“No, absolutely not. We are a women’s programme. As you saw, today was absolutely outstanding. It is about winning matches but it’s also about driving the women’s game. We have a plan in place and we are going nicely.”

In this error strewn test match, with three yellow cards, Ireland's driving maul produced the crucial try for Leah Lyons while the place kicking of Nora Stapleton kept an inept French side at bay.

"The win today just proved that an extended squad, with everyone up to speed, so if anything happens we can slot players in. That's the key, and being competitive in the Six Nations, which we are, and looking after the build up to the World Cup."

So, selection decisions were justified by the result? “I wouldn’t be thinking like that in relation to justification. I’m just happy that the girls performed today. Obviously the win is brilliant. No, that doesn’t come into it at all.”

Tierney refused to signal out any players for individual praise.

He was also asked about the need to know his starting XV and to ensure they play together regularly.

“What is it, February? Yeah, February. The World Cup is in August. So that is our thinking. We are giving everyone absolutely every opportunity to be as good as they can be, from a squad point of view, the best possible chance to be in contention for a World Cup slot.

“It is hugely important from our point of view that we don’t disrespect any player, that we give them every opportunity to show their wares.

“We are confident enough in what we are doing, we are very sure of ourselves, thankfully, and obviously when we are competitive here, when we are competitive in the Sevens Series it justifies everything because it is about driving the women’s game . . . we are happy with how it is going.”

It was put to Tierney that the optics this past week looked bad - a Six Nations game against France live on RTÉ and some of Ireland's best players are off playing Sevens, where the public can't see them.

“Ah, some of the chat that is going on is just ridiculous and you can’t argue with it, you just have to leave it go. The key for me is we are more than happy with how the plan is going.

“Obviously there is talk outside from people. It doesn’t bother me in the slightest but it affects the players and that’s what you don’t want. People that are trying to do that, you know, saying that they got, whatever, it doesn’t really matter.”

Paula Fitzpatrick, the Ireland captain, added: "The [Sevens]girls have been training with us the whole time so we just got on with our jobs really. Yeah, there was a bit of disruption but I think the girls that came in absolutely showed that they didn't weaken the squad. I think it is fantastic that we can have a wide base of players going into the World Cup."

Ireland face Wales on Saturday week in Cardiff Arms Park before England come to Donnybrook on St Patrick's Day.

Eddy and Tierney have also lined up four training games against other nations before the World Cup.

The opposition?

“I’m not telling you.”

Gavin Cummiskey

Gavin Cummiskey

Gavin Cummiskey is The Irish Times' Soccer Correspondent