24 May, 14:08
The Irish Rugby Supporters Club is delighted to announce that tickets for the GUINNESS Series 2013 will go on sale on ticketmaster.ie at 10am on Thursday, May 30.
And the newly-appointed Irish head coach is tackling the challenge head on.
The New Zealander's appointment was formalised in late October, but the experienced coach has been working behind the scenes during the summer to put a tougher new Irish regime in place.
The squad has been through two fitness tests in the last four months, and the players have worked out programmes with IRFU conditioning experts which are overseen by their provinces.
"We are babies in the conditioning sense, in comparison with some of the top teams in the world, but with the enthusiasm and the pure professionalism these girls have, we'll catch up quickly," West predicted.
These are heady times for the Irish women's rugby squad, with their third place Six Nations finish guaranteeing them a place in next August's World Cup finals.
Now the focus is on how to compete with the world-beaters they will encounter in England.
"Against the likes of the Black Ferns or the English team, they are either often professional or semi-professional, and the work we are doing now in terms of conditioning or the professional environment we are building as part of that team will only help bridge that gap," he added.
"The competitiveness of the rugby that we play may well be another factor. It's a big step from club to international, but the greater exposure we get to playing international fixtures, the better we get at that."
West arrived on these shores in 1994 with an invitation to join the coaching team at Naas. With experience at club and senior level in New Zealand behind him, he had heard about the job by word of mouth.
He liked what he saw and stayed, subsequently going on to coach the senior sides at Blackrock College and Terenure College.
West, who works in sports advertising, has also had some success with Senior Cup teams, including stints at Newbridge, Roscrea and Clongowes.
However, he has never had any formal involvement with the women's game before, apart from giving a dig out at a few coaching sessions when he was at Blackrock.
So, what drew him to throw his hat in the ring for the country'd top women's rugby job after the departure of coach Steven Hennessy?
"After twenty-odd years in the club game, the opportunity to coach elite sports, whether men or women, and to coach in the elite environment of a national team - it's a great challenge and that challenge of that was what really drew me.
"That and having seen the women's game over a number of years, and seeing how it has developed."
West acknowledges the professionalism of the women playing top-flight rugby in Ireland.
"Coming from club rugby, if we could get the same level of commitment, and the same level of personal knowledge and improvement there, it would be wonderful.
"Looking at some of the new faces who have played during the interprovincial matches, there are a few more women now putting their hands up behind the national team, which will establish a greater competition for places. That is going to be fundamental in the long term."
Yet the coach knows that competition for top-flight places has to come from a broader base than at present, where clubs such as Blackrock and UL Bohemians make up the backbone of the provincial and therefore national squads.
He says that this is starting to happen, but it will be a slow transition involving the participation of more girls in conditioning programmes and top level training.
West's first Irish training camp will be held in early December, with a friendly fixture against Scotland on the cards prior to the Six Nations - venue and date to be finalised.
"It's hard, we don't get together as much as we would like. They have a pretty active schedule with the provincial and club games," said the coach, noting however that there will be a number of weekend training camps prior to the Six Nations and leading into the 2010 Women's World Cup..
"There is a lot of knowledge in the squad, and a huge amount of caps there as well as a huge amount of ability coming through.
"We are trying to work out collectively what we want to achieve, rather than me coming in and stamping on it what it is I want to do."
West would be happy to maintain, if not improve on, third position in next spring's Six Nations, noting that there was not a lot between Ireland and the second-placed Welsh this year.
And then all eyes will turn to the World Cup which will kick off in England in late August.
"I know from speaking to the players, they believe they can perform against any other opposition, they really do.
"So we have to make sure with the strides we are making in Six Nations preparation that we can.
"We are interested in taking each game as it comes, and if anything we'd love to be able to look back in ten years and see our name there in the final round, whoever we come up against."
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