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Griggs: Women’s Squad Depth Is Definitely Growing

Griggs: Women’s Squad Depth Is Definitely Growing

Ahead of Sunday’s Test match against the USA, Ireland Women’s head coach Adam Griggs has expressed his delight at the growing strength in depth within the 15s national set-up.

The uncapped quartet of Lauren Delany, Laura Sheehan, Emma Hooban and Beibhinn Parsons have been included in the matchday squad for the clash at Energia Park (kick-off 1pm), which precedes a trip to Twickenham to play England on Saturday week.

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Although readily acknowledging the importance of experienced operators like Lindsay Peat, Sene Naoupu, Claire Molloy and captain Ciara Griffin, head coach Adam Griggs believes the new faces are ready to make an impact.

“The depth is definitely growing for us. I’m still very much a fan of having our experienced players experience these Test matches,” admitted Griggs, speaking to the media at Sandymount Hotel. “There are no matches in the summer after the Six Nations, so it’s not about making wholesale changes, but the four new caps have definitely earned their spots. It’s exciting for them and it keeps our more experienced players on their toes.”

Of particular interest is the presence of Ballinasloe teenager Parsons on the bench for Sunday’s game. Should she make an appearance, the Ardscoil Mhuire student will make headlines as the nation’s youngest ever senior international.

An IRFU Under-18 Interprovincial 15s title winner with Connacht this season, she does not turn 17 until November 30, but gets an early chance to impress after excelling under the guidance of Griggs in the Ireland Under-18 Sevens programme.

“Anyone who has watched her (Parsons) play over the past few months will have seen her physical capabilities and how much she has imposed herself at U-18 level. I was lucky enough to have her through the U-18 Sevens, that’s where she really stood out to me. I think across the two Home Nations tournaments she scored 15 tries.

“That was an indicator, that physically, she looked like she could really challenge our senior players. The idea was to bring her in as a development player and see how she copes physically first, but what she has shown in the past four camps is an understanding of the game. 

“While it’s not completely all there right now, this is an experience I don’t think you can buy. She has certainly earned a spot on the bench. Hopefully if things go well, she can get on the field and show us what she has got.”

Whereas UL Bohemians winger Sheehan and Hooban, the St Mary’s hooker, have enjoyed a more conventional pathway to the international game, the Dublin-born Delany gained a place in Ireland’s November squad through an IQ Rugby screening day earlier in the year.

The talented full-back is currently making waves across the water for Firwood Waterloo Ladies in the English Premiership where she produced a run of form that was too good for Griggs and his management team to ignore.

The New Zealander explained: “Lauren came through the IQ Rugby system. We saw her over in England. We went over in August and did some screenings. She popped up there and we thought, ‘she looks pretty decent’. We went back to her club.

“We said to Lauren we like what we see, send us on your footage in the Premiership. In the first two weeks Lauren got ‘Try of the Premiership’ one week, and the next, was setting up the ‘Try of the Week’. From that perspective we couldn’t have asked for more.”

One potential advantage the Women’s Eagles will have over Ireland is the fact they already have two games under their belt in this window. Sunday’s visitors, who are now coached by Englishman Rob Cain, returned to competitive action as part of the Rugby Weekend at Soldier Field in Chicago a fortnight ago.

Their 67-6 defeat to world champions New Zealand was the precursor for a similarly comprehensive reversal to England six days later (57-5). As a result, Griggs and his squad have been afforded an opportunity to review plenty of footage of their opponents, although the former Lansdowne, Old Wesley and Leinster ‘A’ scrum half is remaining focused on his own team’s strengths and capabilities.

“The last couple of weeks with them playing matches is always good for us to be able to have a look and see what they bring. We’ve taken a couple of their mannerisms and how they play the game, but a lot of the focus for us is on us. As I said, the learning process for us, and making sure that we can get what we need to get right, is probably more important than what an opposition brings.

“Absolutely we will look at a couple of their set pieces and what they run off so we’re informed and we know what we’re doing there. If we can get our game right and everything that we’ve been trying to bring in the last few weeks, I think that’s probably more important for us at this stage.”

With a decent gap between the end of the November internationals and the beginning of the 2019 Six Nations, there is definite scope for players to move themselves into the frame for selection. The same rules apply to those who have served Ireland well in the past, including Alison Miller.

The Laois native suffered a compound fracture to her ankle early on in last February’s Six Nations victory over Italy, ruling her out for the rest of the season. The strong-running Old Belvedere and Connacht winger remains very much in the thoughts of Griggs for future squads.

“I’ve been keeping my eye on Ali for a while now. She’s obviously working with our physios, trying to get herself back running and everything. So we’ve had her in camp the last couple of weeks just doing her rehab runs and stuff,” added the Ireland boss.

“But she’s definitely someone, with that experience and what she brings to the team not only on the field but off the field, you know. If she can get back fit and to the level that she was at before, then there’s no reason why she wouldn’t be involved again.”