Sophie Spence wants more Tests to aid World Cup hopes

Secondrow believes extra international matches are needed to develop depth

Ireland’s Sophie Spence. “You can only get better if you are playing at that level against international sides.” Photograph: INPHO/Dan Sheridan

Ireland’s Sophie Spence. “You can only get better if you are playing at that level against international sides.” Photograph: INPHO/Dan Sheridan

 

There is a plan. What it is will be revealed in due course but neither Ireland coach Tom Tierney nor Sophie Spence envisage Sunday’s Six Nations title decider against Scotland being the women’s last Test match until February 2016.

Because, as Spence noted matter-of-factly, if Ireland are to win the World Cup in 2017, which could be on home soil, they must build on what’s already been an impressive transition since last year’s mass exodus of players and coaches.

“Personally I’d love to be playing other international fixtures throughout the year,” says the lock, who earns her 25th cap at Broadwood stadium.

“You can only get better if you are playing at that level against international sides.

“Yeah, to build from this Six Nations. I don’t know exactly what the plan is. We didn’t come in until January this time around. It has been like that for the past amount of years.

“It will be difficult if that is the case as people need to be playing international fixtures to create that depth, especially if we want to look towards winning the World Cup.”

Spence also earned February’s Irish Times sportswoman of the month award. Those unable to pay close attention were nodding towards Niamh Briggs. The usual. The new captain. The gatherer of most Irish points.

Close attention

Another messy one followed up in Ashbourne when France repeatedly and illegally targeted Spence.

She dragged herself back to her feet on two occasions. The referee wasn’t helping her. When offered the opportunity to moan she refused.

“Every team has their gameplan, maybe their’s was hit the big ball carriers. Double up. Suppose like the Welsh game when it was two or three on one. Job is to protect the ball for the nine.”

Another war of attrition followed in the 11-8 downing of England, perhaps the last of those welcoming nights up at Milltown House.

Always a noticeable figure, Spence is the power surge in the Ireland front five, along with Ailis Egan and Gillian Bourke.

However, this season you simply can’t miss her increased industry and appetite to carry hard to the line.

Wales had done their homework on her but it was March on the firmer Swansea pitch. Time for the backs to shine. But back in February, as the wind howled and rain beat down, Spence delivered a valuable new dimension to Ireland’s phase play.

Ball carrying

“It’s about being in the right position, some games I haven’t; the French game I didn’t get a lot of ball but in the England game it took off.”

Somebody had to match the carries of Paula Fitzpatrick. Egan has taken on much of the unseen work that Fiona Coghlan used to do but Spence brings them over the gain line.

“I’m a lot stronger, more physical. I learned a lot from the World Cup. With players like Fi Coghlan leaving others have all got to step up. It was a case of what can I bring to this new pack?

“I remember coming into the squad four years ago and it was such a step up. You are kind of lost. You are in this bubble trying to learn, getting all this info, and you have to help people out.”

Now she does that for others.

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