Ireland Women’s head coach Adam Griggs believes his side have turned a corner, after tries from Megan Williams and captain Ciara Griffin (2) saw them overcome a stiff challenge from Italy in Sunday’s Six Nations clash.
This was the New Zealander’s first win as head coach of the new-look Irish squad, and following a frustrating 24-point defeat to France in the opening round, he felt it was important to get the show back on the road in front of a partisan home crowd.
“We definitely wanted to get a result in front of the home fans. We always said that it was about the performance, but then the performance can take care of the result. Pleased in parts. Certainly played some good rugby in what we wanted to try and do, but plenty to work on,” admitted Adam Griggs after the 21-8 success.
“I think the biggest thing is we’ve turned a corner in the way we want to play. We didn’t fall back into old habits, I suppose. In patches there we put some pressure on the Italians. It was just a case of one more pass sticking and you never know. We could have had another couple of tries there.”
Ireland came into this game without the services of lock Ciara Cooney, who damaged her ankle against France last week, and in what was another attritional outing for the girls in green, Alison Miller’s afternoon and season was cut short at Donnybrook because of an horrific leg injury she suffered when going into contact early on.
The Portlaoise flyer was replaced by Ulster’s Claire McLaughlin after receiving extensive treatment on the pitch and being stretchered off. Griggs revealed that Miller sustained ‘a compound fracture of her ankle’ after just three minutes’ play, with confirmation also coming through that she fractured her tibia and fibula.
“Pretty gutted for her really. She’s a big part of this squad. She is so experienced. On this pitch as well, it’s such a game for Ali. We can just wish her the best and hope she gets better.”
While Ciara Griffin’s two final quarter tries grabbed the headlines, her back row colleague, Claire Molloy, was a deserved recipient of the Aon player-of-the-match award. The versatile Paula Fitzpatrick also stood out on the day, as did ever-industrious prop Lindsay Peat who packed a punch with her strong scrummaging and ball-carrying.
Griggs felt it was important to establish a platform up front, which would then allow their quick-witted ball carriers to thrive in the open space of Donnybrook. “We wanted to make sure it started up front and then we could release the ball to the backs. Let the likes of Sene (Naoupu) and Katie (Fitzhenry) do what they do. We definitely got that from our forwards and probably our backs, just our handling and execution let us down a little bit. It’s something to build on for the next two home games.”
Yesterday’s round 2 fixture also heralded the beginning of two new international careers, with Blackrock captain Michelle Claffey entering the fray in both halves, coming on for Naoupu as a temporary replacement and then replacing Niamh Briggs for the final three minutes.
Galwegians flanker Edel McMahon, who only turns 24 next month, was also given a short run-out in the closing stages, a player Griggs is backing to establish herself as an international player in the coming months and years.
Speaking about the newly-capped pair, he added: “She (Michelle Claffey) came on and made a really good difference. She made some really good tackles for us as well. That’s what we brought her in for. Even when Sene went off for her HIA, she came on and played that 10 minutes brilliantly.
“I think she’s definitely capable at this level. Tried to get Edel McMahon on a bit earlier, but it just wasn’t the way it was. But a minute is a minute, and a cap is a cap. She’ll be one for the future, and I’m sure she’ll earn many more.”
Next up for Ireland is another home match with Wales in a fortnight’s time, and with the momentum built from this performance and result, the Ireland boss is quietly confident that their graph can continue to rise as they look to make the most of the Donnybrook factor.
“The crowd is fantastic and you can even see the players sticking around now, talking to friends and family. It’s such a good community for it. As I say, in parts we put on some really good rugby and I think everyone appreciated that as well. Come Wales in two weeks’ time, we might even be better again,” he added.