Last August Joe Schmidt watched on as the Ireland Women defeated his native New Zealand at the Women’s Rugby World Cup. He spoke to the players but did not interrupt head coach Philip Doyle’s preparations. It was not the first time Schmidt had watched the girls in green in action.
In the 2014 Women’s RBS 6 Nations, Joe Schmidt had come in to chat to the Ireland Women for 15 minutes and ended up taking the entire training session. He came back for a second session and it is clear that Schmidt’s detailed methods have had a lasting effect.
While the girls were used to thinking three or four phases ahead, Schmidt had them thinking eight phases in front of them. Now under new head coach Tom Tierney, they have a won one, lost one record and are out for revenge tonight against England, their 40-7 World Cup semi-final conquerors.
Speaking ahead of the eagerly-awaited rematch at Ashbourne RFC (kick-off 7.30pm, live stream on www.IrishRugby.ie), Ireland centre Jenny Murphy said: “It’ll motivate a lot of the girls and it’s nice to have a chance to get some revenge on a World Cup semi-final where we were hockeyed.
“It’s not pleasant to lose like that. It’s brilliant that we got to the top four but we don’t look at it like that. We want to push on. I’m looking forward to trying to gun them down and right a wrong, definitely.”
After dispatching Italy 30-5 in Florence, Tierney’s charges were edged out 10-5 at home to the defending Six Nations champions France. Now they have a big chance to banish the bad memories of that World Cup semi-final and get their Six Nations title bid back on track.
With the reviews and self-assessments done, the focus is completely on the England game. The disappointment of defeat on home soil still lingers, but the fact that England are next up helps focus the mind.
Murphy admitted: “It’s always nice after a loss to be able to play England next. If that doesn’t motivate you, I don’t think anything else will! They were absolutely fantastic in the World Cup semi-final and we just didn’t play well.
“We let the game run away from us and normally if we come into half-time and we’re down by a few points, that’s a position that we’re comfortable being in because we know we’re able to come back from it.
“Certain things didn’t click that day. It was the first time I was in a dressing room like that. It was quiet, and it’s never going to happen again. We’ve already drawn a line under that performance.”
She felt the team lost the French game rather than les Bleues winning it. The Irish back-line failed to make the desired impact despite the best efforts of Murphy’s new centre partner Katie Fitzhenry and late call-up Aoife Doyle, who won her first cap on the right wing.
“It’s new, it’s a completely different back-line to last year. I was so used to playing with Lynne (Cantwell) and Grace (Davitt) who are extremely experienced players and I was always the novice learning from them. It’s different now. My role has changed.
“It’s enjoyable. It’s about gelling together and learning each other’s strengths and weaknesses. The back-line haven’t been firing on all cylinders but we’ve had time now together so there’s no excuses at this stage.”
Murphy and the supremely talented Cantwell, who hung up her boots after the World Cup, were hugely influential as Ireland’s centre pairing during the 2013 Grand Slam.
Losing such a key cog in the backs division was always going to take time to adjust to, but the former Gaelic football and soccer star is confident the new combinations will improve with game-time together.
“When you’ve had such a solid and experienced centre partnership for the last couple of years, you have to just get over it. It’s coming though, you can see it in training and you’re finding out little bits about each other that you might not have noticed before,” added Murphy.
“It’s going to get there and we’re going to be a force to be reckoned with, hopefully by the end of the Six Nations.”
The Kildare woman agrees that this England team have a lot of class and she knows some of them quite well. At Richmond she played with (blindside flanker) Alex Matthews who is ‘probably one to look out for and she’s a big target’.
England put an opening round defeat to Wales behind them and recovered well against Italy, running in six tries for a 39-7 win at the Stoop.
“They had a really good win against Italy last time out. We’re in their sights but I’m not worried. If we play our game and we correct the mistakes that we made in the France game then they’re going to have to be the ones to worry about us.
“We’ve always raised our game against England and it’s brilliant to be able to play against a team like that every year. They’re so professional. We seem to get a little bit of extra motivation when we play them, but I’m really looking forward to giving it a go.”