As he embarks on his second Six Nations campaign as Ireland Women’s head coach, Adam Griggs believes an extra period of preparation will help to make his side a more formidable prospect.
The New Zealander’s first season in charge saw Ireland finish third in the Championship, behind England and Grand Slam winners France who are both Dublin bound in the 2019 tournament. Ahead of their opening game against a newly-professional England side on Friday, Griggs feels the squad is moving in the right direction.
“It has been absolutely fantastic to have the extra time together and I think we showed that in November in terms of our last performance against England. We had a warm-up against Wales, where the players are starting to adapt a little bit more to the style we’re trying to play,” he said, speaking at the team announcement at sponsors Aon’s head offices in Dublin.
“They’re starting to see some of those results. When you can see things starting to click for you, you get a real buy-in from the players. We’re hoping that we can perform on Friday night with that.”
If Ireland have designs on challenging title favourites England and France, they will need to hit the ground running at Energia Park. Despite being without four players who are away on Sevens duty in Sydney – Louise Galvin, Hannah Tyrrell, 17-year-old starlet Beibhinn Parsons and Eve Higgins, Griggs has selected a side with considerable international experience.
An All-Ireland League winner with Lansdowne in 2015, he joined the IRFU High Performance Unit last April and has a hectic schedule coaching between the national Women’s programmes, but he has been able to recognise the benefits Sevens rugby can have for the 15s game.
“It has been a lot busier. It’s much better now that there’s a bit of security there. I’m obviously full-time now and can dedicate that time week in, week out, to make sure we get the best of the 15s,” explained the Kiwi scrum half who previously played for Leinster ‘A’.
“It’s also good to be across all of the programmes, because with a smaller talent pool that we have, some of our talented players are coming through that Sevens pathway. We don’t have the stronger 15s pathway at the moment in terms of schools and colleges and things. Sevens is where you can discover some of that talent as well. That always helps.”
While Friday’s opener will come too soon for prop Lindsay Peat, who is coming back from a shoulder/neck injury, Alison Miller makes a welcome return to Six Nations action on the bench. The Portlaoise woman, who famously scored a hat-trick against England during the 2013 Grand Slam campaign, is back from the awful broken leg injury which ended her season against Italy last February.
As tempting as it was to include the vastly-experienced Miller in the starting XV, the impressive form of starting wingers Eimear Considine and Megan Williams means she has been kept in reserve for the showdown with the Red Roses.
“Ali as been doing really well. We just wanted to make sure that we don’t throw her straight back in. It’s about making sure that she gets her confidence back up as well. Her playing against Wales a couple of weeks ago was certainly a step in the right direction for her there.
“If you look at someone like Eimear, who in November was one of our star players. It’s a bit of a reward for her and Megan Williams as well. I’m sure Ali will get some time on the field and I know she’ll show us what she can do.”
Having enjoyed a 55 minute run-out in the recent warm-up win over Wales, Miller is slowly regaining her match sharpness. That uncapped fixture at Donnybrook was much more than a training exercise for the squad – it was an opportunity for players to stake a claim to feature in the squad to play England.
Galwegians and Connacht’s Nicole Fowley, who comes in for her Six Nations debut at out-half, produced a particularly impressive performance, converting two tricky conversions to supplement a sublime cross-field delivery for a Laura Sheehan try. Griggs feels Fowley’s kicking game can be a real asset against the English.
“Nicole was someone we had with us all throughout the autumn as well and unfortunately she just picked up some niggles that kept stopping her from getting back into selection. She came on and really took her chance against Wales.
“Her kicking game, not just kicking for goal, but her out of hand kicking and putting us in the right parts of the field, that was certainly a factor in her getting a start this week.”
Friday could prove to be a watershed moment for the uncapped trio of Linda Djougang, Anne-Marie O’Hora and Kathryn Dane, who have been named alongside Miller on the Irish bench. Griggs added: “We have a lot of confidence in the new girls coming through, but just in terms of who we have there at the moment, who is fit and healthy, who has performed quite well in camp, the experienced players definitely have put their hands up. You need that when you come up against England.”