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Griffin: I Think We’ve Really Developed And Improved As A Group

Griffin: I Think We’ve Really Developed And Improved As A Group

Kerry native Ciara Griffin has praised the resilience of the Ireland Women's squad in the lead-up to the 2021 Women's Six Nations Championship ©INPHO/Laszlo Geczo

Ireland Women’s captain Ciara Griffin is looking to leave a frustrating few months behind her when she leads out the team in the much-anticipated 2021 Women’s Six Nations.

It is more than five months since the Ireland Women last lined out together, picking up a 21-7 victory over Italy at Energia Park last October.

That match in itself ended a long period of inactivity, with their previous encounter being an away defeat to England the previous February.

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A succession of training camps at the IRFU High Performance Centre has sustained Adam Griggs’ squad in the meantime and they will finally get a chance to don the green jersey again on Saturday week against Wales in Cardiff.

Speaking today at the virtual launch of the Women’s Six Nations, Griffin said: “I won’t lie, it has been a tough few months in terms of the ups and downs. The uncertainty of matches. Of playing, not playing.

“What’s great for us is we have matches (now). We’ve a match in less than two weeks. Getting ready to play. The girls have been phenomenal. I just can’t commend this group enough.

“They are the most resilient and the most dedicated group you’ll ever meet. Their commitment to the jersey is second to none and I know as a group that we just can’t wait to go and play. Show all the work we’ve done behind the scenes.

“We’ve been in 20 camps as a group (and over 60 pitch sessions). We’ve never had that much contact time together. We can’t wait just to go out and play now. Show the work we have been doing behind the scenes and just play some rugby.”

Due to the disruption caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, this year’s Women’s Six Nations has a different format. Instead of facing each team once, Ireland have been placed in Pool B alongside France and Wales.

The result of these games will determine where Griggs’ charges progress from there, with three separate play-off matches deciding the final standings in the tournament.

Griffin acknowledged: “I know obviously it’s great to get the matches with the pandemic and everything. This new format is different for us, but every match is a cup final.

You want to go out and you want to win every match. You need to win every match when you go out. There’s no second chances, which is what you need.

“It’s going to be very exciting rugby for this competition and I can’t wait. It’s an excellent campaign in terms of you’ve an opportunity to get to that final.

“That’s our aim. We want to win our pool matches and get into that final. That’s definitely our aim as a group.”

In the past few years, Ireland have established a fierce rivalry with Wales. While the girls in green claimed emphatic home wins over Wales in the 2018 and 2020 Six Nations, they lost on their last visit to the Welsh capital in 2019.

A few months after that encounter, a last-gasp Keira Bevan try denied Ireland victory in an autumn international at the UCD Bowl.

Nonetheless, Griffin is not focusing too much on past meetings between the two teams – especially with Wales now being guided by a head coach in South African Warren Abrahams.

“We’re looking forward to getting out and playing. We just want to go and play some rugby. I think we’ve really developed and improved as a group. Obviously past performances are past performances.

“They don’t win you a Championship, it’s what is happening now. That’s what we’re going to focus on. Literally Wales now is our next match. We’re just going to hit the ground running and put in a very strong performance.

“I know Siwan (Lillicrap) was saying in the captains’ media that Wales are hoping to play some expansive rugby. A different style of rugby and an attacking game.

“I’m guessing we’ll be prepared for that, but we’ll be prepared for all eventualities as a group. We’ll have our side covered, so we’re looking forward to a good contest.”

Now in her fourth year as Ireland captain, Griffin made her international debut against Wales in the 2016 Six Nations. 18 months later, she was lining out for her country in a home-based Rugby World Cup.

In the build-up to that tournament, a then-17-year-old Eve Higgins was training with the squad, before ultimately missing out on the final selection.

Owing to her subsequent commitment to the IRFU Sevens programme, the talented young Dubliner is yet to make her bow as a 15s international.

That could well change in the coming weeks, however, with Higgins included as one of five uncapped players in Ireland’s Six Nations squad. Griffin has kept a keen eye on her development in recent years and is excited about what she can bring to this level.

“Eve was involved in the campaign in 2017, leading up to that World Cup. She has a lot of experience with us as a group. Since she’s come back into the training squad, she’s doing really well.

“Eve has a very good rugby knowledge. It’s nice to see her coming in now and putting her hand up for selection. Hopefully it’s a good campaign for her.”

Joining Higgins in the 35-strong squad for the Six Nations will be her regular Ireland Sevens team-mates, Amee-Leigh Murphy Crowe.

A product of Clanwilliam FC in her native Tipperary, the flying winger has taken the Sevens game by storm since making her debut in Guangzhou seven years ago.

Understandably, Griffin is hoping that the prolific Murphy Crowe can transfer her superb try-scoring form onto the 15s stage.

“Amee, she’s a brilliant rugby brain. She does her homework. She works so hard off the field to perform so well on the field. I can’t wait to see her tear it up this campaign.”

Despite the disruption, 2020 was an encouraging year overall for Ireland. Three victories were recorded from four games, with their stated target of winning all their home fixtures achieved courtesy of well-deserved triumphs over Scotland, Wales and Italy.

However, there remains scope for improvement in their performances and Griffin believes the squad have used their 20 training camps together to good effect.

I think one big thing for us is our defensive system. Kieran Hallett has done massive work with us as a group and I think a lot of our defensive knowledge has improved, and our line speed.

“We’ve worked a lot on our work off the ball and work-rate. That’s a big thing we worked on this year. Again, that attacking rugby (will be important). Playing what’s in front of you.

“Just playing that expansive game that we know we can play and go out and play it. Doesn’t matter what the picture is in front. If you see a gap, just go for it. Looking forward to applying those two elements to our game.”