Winning is the lifeblood of Ireland's women rugby champions
The strength of our women rugby players should be cherished
“Oh sorry! Did I get blood on you?” A smiling Jenny Murphy, with red-stained teeth, remains thoughtful despite euphoric celebrations just moments after the Irish women’s rugby team capture the Six Nations trophy. Again.
She wanders into the crowd to find Lynne Cantwell, the previous resident in the number 13 jersey. This 73-3 victory over Scotland means Ireland are both male and female champions for the first time ever at the same time.
The coach, Tom Tierney, is adamant they are just rugby players. It’s the highest compliment he can pay them. Like the schoolboys he coached in Glenstal Abbey or the men of Cork Constitution. But how many male rugby players stall to hug a journalist after winning the championship and then apologise for spilling blood on you.
At least the building blocks are being put in place to see if it can continue for a while yet.
“Ah we have to cherish it, I’m not going to be around for many more years,” said captain Niamh Briggs, the woman entrusted with leading Ireland to the 2017 World Cup, which the IRFU hopes to host in UCD and Belfast.
“We still have the bones of a good squad and some new girls have come in but what was most satisfying today was how clinical and professional we were in our job.” That comes from confidence and work ethic. One follows the other in a continual loop.
“D’you know what, I’m very driven and competitive,” Briggs continued, glancing over as the younger girls climbed into the Broadwood Stadium stands to have their pictures taken with friends and family (there were almost zero Scottish supporters, yet again bringing into question the decision-making process of those who select Six Nations venues and times in the women’s game).
“I want to win every game. When I don’t, it takes me a long time to recover.”
Equally, that’s what drives this group. Briggs and the rest seemed overly hard on themselves after a brilliant England side beat them 40-7 at last August’s World Cup. The joy on their faces after beating England, minus their Sevens contingent, this season showed how much it means to prove the last two years of success were sustainable.
“It also shows the work that Tom Tierney and the lads have put into us,” Briggs went on. “There are no measures for this squad, no limits. We can keep getting better and better.”
Tierney replaced Phillip Doyle as head coach this season but a massive leap is evident with the Irish solution to the Sevens conundrum. Anthony Eddy has arrived from Australia to head up the new high-performance unit in DCU with a clear pathway between Sevens rugby and 15-a-side now, seemingly, ensuring the identification of talent and player funding will benefit both. “Bringing us into the high-performance unit under Anthony, Tom and Deccie (O’Brien) has been amazing for our progress.
“It’s the attention to the smallest of detail that means we are never under pressure going into a match because we have been given a really fine-tuned game plan. But most importantly, Tom gets on great with the girls.”
What comes next will be really interesting. Tierney will submit a yearly plan to ensure preparation for the 2017 World Cup begins in earnest.
Additional Test matches outside the Six Nations window, an essential addition to the schedule for genuine progress to happen is the next step the IRFU must make. “There is no limit to what we can achieve,” said Briggs before joining the other girls in celebration.
The men and women may well cross paths on the streets of Dublin as double celebrations flow for a day or two.
They will not only be bonded by being Ireland rugby players. They will be champions. All of them.