Ireland Women’s star Eve Higgins believes the IRFU’s ‘Give It A Try’ initiative can be the perfect springboard to get more girls to take up rugby at a younger age.
An eight-week programme run in selected clubs, ‘Give It A Try’, which has the backing of Irish Rugby’s official kit partner Canterbury, offers female players between the ages of 8 and 14 the opportunity to learn the oval ball game in a fun and friendly environment.
It is set to take place in the months of July, August and September this year, with the first four weeks being operated on a non-contact basis.
More than most, Sevens and 15s international Higgins understands how important it is for young girls to get a handle on the basics of the sport.
A former Mini and Youths player with MU Barnhall in Leixlip, Co. Kildare, she moved to her current club of Railway Union – on the southside of the capital – when she was just 14-years-old.
“It was just unfortunate that the number of girls playing rugby in Barnhall wasn’t a lot or even around the area,” explained the 21-year-old centre, speaking at the ‘Give It A Try’ launch today.
“I had to make the tough decision of moving away and ended up in Railway Union, who have done a great job of building the game for Women’s rugby.
The numbers they have brought through over the years is brilliant. Hopefully this type of initiative will grow the game in all areas. Not just in the Dublin clubs, but all around the province and Ireland.
“Hopefully it can just increase the numbers of girls playing rugby. The positive about ‘Give It A Try’ is it’s giving opportunities for girls to play rugby in clubs and hopefully have these clubs have girls teams.
“Whereas in my experience, my Dad had to send emails to clubs all around Dublin and the province to see which clubs had girls teams playing.”
After featuring prominently on the Sevens circuit in the past few years, Higgins got her long-awaited opportunity to play 15s international rugby for Ireland this month.
It has been a long time coming for the Lucan native, who was part of the training squad for the home-based 2017 Rugby World Cup and initially received a call-up for the 2019 Six Nations only to miss out due to her Sevens commitments at the time.
Higgins was thrown in at the deep end, starting all three of Ireland’s games at outside centre in a restructured Women’s Six Nations – one that saw Ireland finish in third place.
It was a steep learning curve, but the UCD student was generally satisfied with how it went for both herself and the team.
“I was in and out of training camps for the World Cup in 2017, but I was only 17 at the time. It was quite a step up from never playing the 15s game, club-wise, to then being in the World Cup squad and training away.
“It was brilliant to get the opportunity. The benefit, in a way, of Covid was the fact that we got to train together as a squad a lot. Obviously you love training together, but you want to play the game.
“I definitely was very excited when I got the nod for the Welsh game. It was obviously tough coming in. I’ve watched 15s growing up and that was all I watched when I was a kid, but it’s completely different when you’re in that role.
“Especially at 13, it’s a lot defensively you have to work on. I probably hammered Kieran (Hallett), our defence coach, a lot with clips throughout training, but we were lucky enough to have 20-plus camps under our belt.
“When I got the chance for the Wales game, I had a bit of practice going into it. I was delighted to put my hand up for that selection and thankfully play in each game.”
Higgins was one of five uncapped players included in Adam Griggs’ squad for the Six Nations, with the other four also having starred on the World Series stage for the Ireland Sevens side.
Incidentally, three of those – Stacey Flood, Amee-Leigh Murphy Crowe and Grace Moore – are club-mates of Higgins at Railway Union.
She has known Flood for quite some time and is adamant there is to more come from her fellow Dubliner in the 15s grade.
“I went to Railway when I was 14 and Stacey I think was 17. She had only started playing rugby, I think she was only a few months in. We got to play one youth game together before she was over 18,” she noted.
“Obviously when I was brought into Sevens, I was training away with her. She was definitely someone I looked up to when I was in Railway at the time, because she had just started playing and she was travelling the world with Sevens.
“It was something I obviously wanted to do, represent my country. Stacey is the type of player that will look at the playbook a thousand times over, ask questions.
“She’s someone who grows in every single match she plays. She improves and she improves. She’s a great player and I’m looking forward to seeing her with even more games under her belt.”
As someone who has ample experience of playing both, Higgins is well placed to outline the differences between Sevens rugby and 15s. Assessing both codes, she commented:
Defensively, it’s very different. You want to close down the space in 15s, you have the last woman coming in at full-back.
“In Sevens, you look at a pitch as you have that much space to stop them. Whereas in 15s, you don’t want to give away territory at all. Defensively, it’s a big difference in mindset. 15s is very direct.
“With Sevens, people are trying to non-stop run around you. You kind of have to front up in 15s and make the tackles.
“It’s small scenarios, but it’s amazing how extremely different they are. You think they’re the same sport, but it’s completely different.”
While she is hell-bent on helping Ireland to qualify for next year’s Rugby World Cup in New Zealand, Higgins’ Sevens journey will continue.
Although the opening leg of the HSBC World Series – originally set to get underway in Paris next month – has been postponed for now, she remains contracted to the IRFU Sevens programme.
Yet, whereas in the past she prioritised one over the other, Higgins will be looking to juggle both codes in the coming months.
“With 15s, we’ve six weeks off and then focus on the World Cup qualifiers. I hopefully will be playing Sevens as well throughout the summer, but then obviously focusing back onto the World Cup qualifiers,” she added.
“I’ll be training probably both. Either way, it’s a chance to represent the country. We’ll just see what comes in the next few months.”