“What’s important now is that we reflect on what we’ve done and that we don’t sit on our laurels. That we build for the future and that we make sure these players are continuously working on their skills and are getting bigger and stronger and faster. That’s the key.” Ireland Women’s coach Steven Hennessy on the progress made and hard work ahead for his squad of players.
The Ireland Women’s squad made history last weekend by finish third in the RBS Women’s 6 Nations Championship, eclipsing their performances of recent seasons.
But their head coach Steven Hennessy knows there is more to come from this side and in losing their final game 13-10 to Wales, they were agonisingly close to a prized second spot.
Speaking to IrishRugby.ie after the game, he said: “We finished third, it’s the first time we’ve finished above fourth before.
“We would have loved to win in Wales for four out of five and to finish second. It was always going to be difficult though, and it was going to be particularly difficult when we gave them a headstart of 10-0.
“I thought the girls came back very, very bravely in the second part of the first half.
“I thought we played very well in the second half in phases but unfortunately every time we got into their 22, Wales weathered the storm and unfortunately got away.”
A converted try from centre Shannon Houston squared up an entertaining game at Taffs Well in Cardiff but the Welsh mustered a late penalty, converted by Non Evans, to seal their Triple Crown-clinching win.
“Overall, to be fair, I think Wales were the better team on the day. We need to learn from the mistakes we made and I’m sure we will,” Hennessy added.
“We need to look at our decision-making and playing for position and playing the territory.
“If we can learn from our mistakes, three out of five wins is not a bad achievement for the year…to finish third and qualify automatically for the World Cup next year.
“What’s important now is that we reflect on what we’ve done and that we don’t sit on our laurels.
“That we build for the future and that we make sure these players are continuously working on their skills and are getting bigger and stronger and faster. That’s the key.
“I think we need to promote the game at club level, make sure the clubs get stronger and If we can do that, we have a very bright future.”
Hennessy, who is only in his first season in charge, said there are ‘huge positives’ for captain Joy Neville and her team-mates to take with them as they cast their minds forward to the 2010 Six Nations and Women’s Rugby World Cup.
And on evidence of their home matches in recent weeks, which saw great crowds turn out at Ashbourne RFC and St. Mary’s College RFC for the France and England games respectively, matters are improving for the girls in green both on and off the pitch.
“We beat France and deservedly beat France. We went away to Italy and won and scored five tries which hadn’t been done before,” Hennessy explained.
“We then played England and led 13-5 at half-time, which was a big achievement but that took a a huge amount out of the team.
“We were well beaten in the second half but we showed that if we can progress further and get bigger and stronger and faster and fitter, we can hopefully compete with the top sides.
“If we can compete with England, we can compete with anyone in the world because they are the barometer. They are the measurement currently.
“They are in the top two in the world and will be looking to win the World Cup on home soil next year.
“We did very well for 40 minutes but we need to do well against them for longer. We need to play for longer periods of play in all games – we’re playing for 20 minutes, foot off the pedal for ten, playing for another 15 minutes, foot off the pedal.
“We need to be able to play for longer, more sustained periods of time. If we can do that, we’ll be a force to be reckoned with internationally into the future.”
Closing the gap on England, the Six Nations champions, is a big target for Neville and company and getting more players into the clubs and raising the standard remains a key goal each year.
Hennessy added: “The big advantage England have obviously is the amount of players playing the game. We need to get more players playing the game, we need to get club rugby stronger.
“There are five or six club sides dominating Irish women’s rugby and we need to look at ways of attracting more players to the game.
“Getting some bigger players into the game, making them more skilful, the strength and conditioning aspect of the side is vitally important as well. We need to look at that and as part of the review process, get that right going forward.
“The skill levels are good. They need to get bigger and stronger and faster in some scenarios.
“Other than that, they made huge progress this year and have been making huge progress over the last number of years.”
Ireland’s automatic qualification for next year’s World Cup, which came following their 23-0 victory over Scotland, means they currently have no fixtures for the summer when the qualifying matches take place.
With that in mind, Hennessy is keen for his players to get back on international duty as soon as possible as they need to continually test themselves at the highest level.
“The next phase is to review the Six Nations. The next international isn’t technically until the next Six Nations – that’s a huge gap for us. There’s a big void there.
“We need to look at can we play…maybe go on some sort of a tour during the summer or can we get involved in one or two of the tournaments that are played during the summer?
“I think England play a tournament equivalent to the Churchill Cup in men’s, between themselves, the USA, Canada and one of the Southern Hemisphere countries.
“We need to be looking at getting into one or two of those type of competitions, improving the standards by playing against and learning from the top sides in the world.”