With an injury-plagued 2017 now firmly behind her, Niamh Briggs is certainly enjoying ‘a new lease of life’ as out-half in the new-look Ireland Women’s squad.
After recovering fully from a torn hamstring that ruled her out of the Women’s Six Nations last year, the UL Bohemians and Munster star then also cruelly missed a Women’s Rugby World Cup on home soil with an Achilles tendon injury.
Niamh Briggs admits that she fell out love with the game as a result of these setbacks, but feels a switch in position under Ireland’s new head coach Adam Griggs – from full-back to play-maker at number 10 – has reinvigorated her.
“It’s like a new lease of life. I’m learning loads. Having been out for so long and then coming back into a new position, it was almost like my first cap again. I’m really enjoying it. I definitely fell out of love a bit with the game after the World Cup. I wasn’t sure if I was going to continue playing, revealed Briggs, speaking in the build-up to today’s clash with Scotland at Donnybrook (kick-off 1pm).
“To come back and to come into the 10 jersey, it’s been really exciting. So many things have changed in terms of me personally and then the game has evolved a little bit as well. Its been great. It’s definitely a challenge. I’m not used to being stuck in there not having a lot of space.”
Known primarily as a classy full-back and top-notch goal-kicker, Briggs was handed the number 10 shirt for the opening round trip to France last month, deputising for her former team-mate Nora Stapleton who bowed out of the international game after last August’s World Cup.
Although an extended spell on the sidelines inevitably led to some ring rust, the 33-year-old Garda believes she is improving each time she takes to the pitch. “I only got back running at the end of December. I’d love to have come in fitter and sharper. All you are doing is concentrating on rugby as opposed to so many other factors. But it wasn’t to be, so I’m learning and trying to get up to speed as quickly as I can,” said Briggs.
“I think every game has been a little bit better. I’d love to be fitter and sharper in terms of rugby, but I’m kind of using this one now for what it is. I’m trying to learn as much as I can. Hopefully have a good pre-season next year and come back in, in better shape. Then I’ll have a huge amount of experience at this level and then being able to make it better again next year.”
Briggs has enjoyed some memorable moments in green against this afternoon’s opponents, not least a record-breaking 73-3 victory at Broadwood Stadium three years ago. Her vast array of skills were on display on that occasion, as she captained Ireland to Six Nations glory on the same weekend that their male counterparts also secured the Championship title.
However, the Ireland Women did not have it all their own way in the same Cumbernauld venue last year. A Jenny Murphy try, past the 80-minute mark, was the difference in a hard-fought 22-15 success for the girls in green. With this mind, Briggs readily admits that the gap between the two nations is closing.
“Scotland have put a lot of structures in place, in fairness to them. They’ve had some dark days in term of them as a squad, and where Women’s rugby was in Scotland, but I think that they’re on the right track now. They’ve got some really dangerous players. They’ve got professional players, we don’t have that.
“They’ve got some good structures in place now, where they train a lot more together. They’ve been unlucky, I think, in some of the results that they’ve had so far, because they’ve had some really good snippets. I think as this tournament and the next tournament goes on, they’re definitely going to keep improving all the time.”
Ireland’s runaway 35-12 bonus point triumph over Wales two weeks ago showed that the current squad are beginning to evolve under the coaching triumvirate of Griggs, Jeff Carter and Mike Ross. As they head into their final home game of the campaign, Briggs is eager for the team to maintain their recent progression.
“I don’t think we’ve hit any of our heights. This year is definitely very much a learning curve for us as a squad and what we’re trying to build. Every game, we’ve had little snippets of things that have gotten better from the previous game. 100%, we’ve definitely got a lot of work still to do.
“We’ve gained a lot of confidence now from the last two games (against Italy and Wales), and I still think we have to perform well against Scotland. I think there’s a really good vibe within us at the moment. I think we’re trying to be positive in how we play, but we’ve still got a lot to do,” she added.