Ireland Women’s captain Ciara Griffin is hopeful her side can use the upcoming Six Nations clashes with Italy and France as a launchpad for their crunch Rugby World Cup qualifiers in December.
Adam Griggs’ charges are third in the table with two wins from the three games, ahead of the resumption of their Championship campaign at home to Italy at Energia Park next Saturday (kick-off 6.30pm).
A trip to Stadium Lille-Métropole for a final round encounter with France follows eight days later, before attention switches to their main objective for 2020 – securing a spot at next year’s Rugby World Cup in New Zealand.
On the road to that critical phase in the team’s development, Ireland will be aiming to make it three home Six Nations wins on the bounce, following their earlier successes over Scotland and Wales in the spring.
Griffin insisted: “We want to win three home matches so we want to win next weekend – that’s the bottom line really. These are two really important matches leading up to December for us as well.
We have to take every opportunity we can to keep those performances up. Keep working on what we’ve been working on in camp and putting in the performances. Italy are a really good team to play against, they love expansive rugby. It’s just going to be exciting to play against them.
“I think it’s great having that first game in so long at home. It’s lovely having that as well. These Six Nations matches are a great opportunity for us to build up for December. To up our intensity and get our performances in. That execution that we want.
“It’s good for us. It’s a big few months for us in terms of getting to those December qualifiers. I suppose we can’t focus on December until we get through these two matches and everyone gets through well.”
While it has been all of 239 days since Ireland’s last fixture – a third round defeat to England at Castle Park in Doncaster – the Azzurre will be bridging an even longer gap on their return to competitive action.
Whereas there was no confirmed case on these shores until February 29 – and only a minimal number of infections across the United Kingdom – the rugby stronghold of northern Italy was significantly gripped by the Coronavirus pandemic.
This led to the postponement of their proposed round three clash with Scotland in Legnano, meaning their last appearance in the competition was a heavy reversal to France on February 8.
As a consequence, it is difficult for Griggs, his fellow coaches and players to focus too much on opposition analysis for this Saturday’s game. Given how well the squad have integrated back into the IRFU’s High Performance Centre, Griffin is more than happy to adopt an inward focus.
“You have to respect every opponent and you have to take every opponent seriously as well. We still have to focus on our performances, see what we can do and what we can control,” she explained.
We’re just focusing on going out there and playing the rugby we want. Playing what we’ve been working on the last four weeks in camp. Just putting on a solid home performance.
“We hit the ground running the minute we came in here. What struck me was the competitiveness and the bite everyone had to come into training. There was high quality execution and that’s what we want. We need that execution at high tempo.
“I don’t think there’s been much of a difference (between training back then and now). The first week was a transition in terms of finding our feet again, but over the last few weeks we’ve kept pushing and ramping up the intensity.”
Griffin also spoke about the protocols in place to ensure that the players and coaches stay safe and well during these Covid-19 times. As restrictive as this has been over the last few weeks, the end goal of lining out for their country once again makes it all worthwhile.
“You decide to put in that time to have a chance at the green jersey so you decide to do those sessions. I think a big thing is that we’re taking that extra responsibility in terms of just outside of camp,” she acknowledged.
“You’ve to be so cautious and so careful in terms of your own bubbles, your work bubbles, and you’ve to nearly limit your social bubbles as well. We have always travelled independently as well, but we have some travel pods.
“Some groups will travel together and that’s your travel pod in terms of safety and we all follow Covid precautions. Face masks, windows down. We have those procedures in place for when we get to camp. I have to commend the IRFU in terms of the protocols they put in place.
“We do a Covid assessment every morning. We write down everything. That’s done every morning, regardless. Then we have temperature checks coming into camp and after training as well. Sign in, sign out. Everything has changed. Our own bottles, things like that. All the procedures are in place to keep us safe, which is the main thing.”
Even before becoming Ireland captain in 2018, Griffin had established herself as one of the mainstays of the national team. There has been a substantial transition in playing personnel over recent seasons, but now a host of promising youngsters are making the step up to Test level.
Beibhinn Parsons and Judy Bobbett have made two starts each in this year’s Championship, while Fethard’s Dorothy Wall is establishing herself as a powerful back row option. As well as adding depth in some crucial positions, their emergence on the international scene is helping to keep the leading lights within the squad on their toes.
“It has been great to see the young players coming up into the fold and putting their hand up,” noted Griffin. “Literally driving that standard and driving that competitiveness. You can’t sit on your laurels, which is the great thing about this squad. Everyone is just biting for a jersey and biting for that chance.
“Having the young players coming up, it just shows the IRFU development pathways are working well. Those younger players are coming in and they’re finding their feet, which is what we need.”
Griffin was speaking at the official launch of the Canterbury Ireland Women’s Rugby jersey. The Kerry native, who is a primary school teacher in her hometown of Tralee, can see this having a strong impact, particularly on those who aspire to represent Ireland in the same manner that she has.
I suppose it does make a massive difference that young girls out there who want to wear green can wear the Women’s jersey. When you put your hand up for an international, you want to play in the Women’s team and wear the Women’s jersey. That’s massive.
“The fact that my cousins now, who love playing rugby, can wear the same jersey as me. Those things make a difference in terms of girls seeing that it is accessible. That you have an opportunity and it’s there.”