Fresh from scoring her first two international tries, Dorothy Wall believes initiatives like ‘Give It A Try’ can help to grow Women’s rugby in Ireland to a point where future generations can prosper on the biggest stage of all.
Running for eight weeks during the months of July, August and September this year, the IRFU’s ‘Give It A Try’ programme, backed by Irish Rugby’s official kit partner Canterbury, offers young girls between the ages of 8 and 14 the opportunity to learn the sport in a fun environment.
The Tipperary youngster has seen first hand the work that is being done to expand participation levels across the country. She s confident it can bring players through the IRFU’s systems in the years to come.
Speaking at today’s ‘Give It A Try’ launch, Wall said: “I’ve been down to a few of the ‘Give It A Try’ sessions in Fethard (her home club) and it’s fun. They are enjoying themselves.
“They’re doing little games that don’t seem that complicated, but in these little games and drills they’re doing, they’re learning the core skills and they’re only 10, 12, 14.
“It’s so important because the girls on the current international team, not a lot of them got that at all. They played other sports.
For these girls to be having fun with their friends, for it to be inclusive and for them to be developing those skills at such a young age, is going to be so important for their growth.
“The next international team that you’re going to see are going to have that skill. I think that’s so exciting for the future of Women’s rugby in Ireland and just in general.”
Despite being one of the youngest players in Adam Griggs’ Ireland squad at 20 years of age – she will turn 21 next week – Wall did not take up rugby until she was 16.
Once she got a taste of what the sport has to offer, the blindside flanker was immediately hooked and has not taken a step backwards since.
“I always had been down at my brother’s matches on a Sunday and my Dad would have coached the minis. All family friends would have been very involved. I had been playing basketball for a while and I thought, ‘you know what, I might be good at this sport’.
“Polly Murphy down in Fethard pulled me after one of the games and said, ‘will you give it a go’, and I said, ‘yeah, I’d absolutely love to’. Training down in Fethard on a Friday evening in the muck and cold.
“My three brothers were there too, nearly having to be hosed when they got back up from training, because there was so much filth on us! My earliest memories would have been of Friday nights down in Fethard. Having fun with the people you had grown up with all along.”
Fast forward a few seasons and Wall is fast establishing herself as a key figure in the Ireland 15s team. Having impressed in cameo appearances against Scotland, Wales and England before the pandemic, Wall was handed her first start against Italy last October.
She retained her spot in the back row for this year’s restructured Championship campaign – scoring two tries in three games as Ireland achieved a third place finish.
While acknowledging she still has a lot to learn, Wall feels she is growing in confidence with each Test match she plays, remarking:
With every game, every minute you play, you learn more about what it is. You can be a good athlete, but to be a good international athlete is very different. It’s how you deal with how the game is going.
“How you can problem solve on the pitch. I have a lot to learn about that sort of thing, but I’m open to learning about it. I think the experience and the game-time of this Six Nations will stand to me, because I was handed different scenarios.
“Maybe I didn’t deal with certain (scenarios), but I probably did stand up and deal with others. There’s a lot of learnings to be taken from it for me.”
Like a number of players in the present 15s squad, Wall has Sevens international experience. Whereas most dual exponents can be found in the back-line, the Munster forward and the newly-capped Grace Moore are bringing their experience from rugby’s other code into the Irish pack.
It was through the IRFU Sevens programme that Wall first sampled an international environment and she is continuing to reap the benefits of this initial exposure.
“It’s just the basic skill-set. You’re getting passing and you’re getting tackle tech, how to position yourself. That’s very integral to the Sevens set-up. Doing that four days a week for three years, it has stood to me so well.
“Catch and pass, draw and give, whatever you want. We’re doing that four days a week and for players our age, it’s similar to an Academy set-up. Which you aren’t getting anywhere else in the country. The benefits are huge.”
As regards the team’s performances in the Six Nations, Wall was generally satisfied with how the shortened tournament went for Ireland. Either side of a heavy defeat to France, the girls in green were convincing winners over Wales and Italy.
“I think it was a positive thing for our team – to have gotten that win at the start, had that disappointment against the French, rectified the mistakes we had,” she insisted.
“And it was a scrappy finish against the Italians, but we pulled off the set moves we wanted. Our defence was better and we won the game. I think that’s the bottom line.
“Two wins out of three is a successful campaign and that’s what I’m going with. It’s a step in the right direction for the World Cup qualifiers and hopefully the World Cup.”
Those aforementioned European qualifiers for next year’s World Cup in New Zealand will see Ireland attempt to qualify along with Italy, Scotland and Spain.
Originally set to take place in the winter of 2020 until Covid-19 halted the best laid plans of the tournament organisers, this has been a high priority for quite some time within the Ireland camp.
Their standing in the 2021 Six Nations will make Ireland favourites to prevail, and Wall is happy with where the squad are moving into a pivotal stage of their development. She addedL
We’ve been building for it, for a long time. Because it has been postponed so many times. We’ve had the highs and lows of that.
“I think the way in which we played in this Six Nations campaign, we weren’t perfect but we hadn’t had game-time. I think if you saw any of the men’s, even provincial teams, they were rusty when they got back out.
“They had a high penalty count and what-not, because they hadn’t played rugby. We’re put on the international stage under the same circumstances.
“The mistakes happen and we know that, but I think we worked through our systems well and we came out on the better end of it.”