Ireland Head Coach Adam Griggs has urged his side not to take their eye off the ball when facing Italy in Round 2 of the Rugby World Cup 2021 Europe Qualifier at Stadio Sergio Lanfranchi on Sunday afternoon (Kick-off 2pm Irish time, live on RTÉ Player, World Rugby YouTube and rugbyworldcup.com/2021).
Having come up short against Spain at the same venue last Monday, Ireland are searching for a win to keep themselves in contention for a place at next year’s delayed finals in New Zealand. While Ireland have defeated the Azzurre twice in the past 11 months alone, Italy held the upper hand when the sides last met in Parma during the 2019 Women’s Six Nations.
That particular encounter finished 29-27 in favour of the hosts and Griggs is anticipating a massive challenge from the tournament leaders on their home patch.
“We definitely can’t take our eye off the ball here and we’re not underestimating them. They are a good team and if you let them get on top, and get some go-forward, they will exploit you. They like to offload the ball, they like to keep it alive,” Griggs remarked in advance of the game.
“We’ve spoken at length about making sure our defence is really dominant this week and putting a real emphasis on that. Trying to shut down their space and not give them time on the ball. I think when we had a look at the game against Scotland, they were allowed to play. If you allow that, they are good and they will punish you. That’s really an emphasis we’re looking at this weekend.”
In total, Griggs has made four changes to his starting line-up from the Spanish game – as well selecting a notable stalwart amongst the replacements. Eve Higgins replaces Lucy Mulhall at outside centre, while Laura Feely, Sam Monaghan and Edel McMahon are brought into the Irish pack.
Having seen her training week disrupted for medical reasons, Lindsay Peat has to make do with a spot on the bench alongside veteran back row Claire Molloy.
Regular starter Aoife McDermott misses out on the match day 23, with the freshly-capped Monaghan taking her place in the second row. The Meath native made her debut as a replacement against Spain and Griggs feels she has what it takes to curtail her abrasive Italian counterparts.
“She’s very dynamic, she’s physical. I think that’s what we’re going to need to combat the Italians this week. We’ve probably sacrificed a little bit of height with Aoife, but for hopefully more dynamic open field play with Sam.
“That’s what we would look for her to get, that’s the simple message for her. Play her game and what has gotten her this far. Yes it’s her first start, but at the same time, once you cross the line it’s a game of rugby. It’s 80 minutes. It’s 15 v 15. We don’t want her to try and overthink it and reinvent the wheel.”
𝗖𝗮𝗽𝘁𝗮𝗶𝗻'𝘀 𝗥𝘂𝗻 ✅
— Irish Rugby (@IrishRugby) September 18, 2021
On the return of the aforementioned Molloy to this match day squad, Griggs said: “We need her experience. She has trained really well this week. She has put her hand up and earned it. Being able to insert her into the game, whenever that time may be, will add that experience and that calm head that we’ll need to hopefully see out the game.”
While Monday’s reversal to Spain was a tough pill to swallow, Griggs insists Ireland are mentally in a good place ahead of their crunch clash with the Italians. Although there is only a six-day gap between the two fixtures, the Head Coach believes enough groundwork has been laid for his troops to do the business on the field of play.
“You almost have to go through a little bit of a grieving process in the days after the loss and we certainly did that as a coaching group. We made sure we reviewed everything from the game and again, it was an honest analysis of where we felt we went wrong. We presented that with the squad,” Griggs added.
“We said ‘we all have to hold our hands up here’. Support staff to players and make sure that we don’t let that performance happen again. The first couple of days were difficult, but we had a really good session in the middle of the week. We felt that was a good turning point for us to leave last weekend behind and move on to this weekend.
“We’re lucky, we’re able to draw on past Italian experiences, where we’ve played them quite regularly. We felt we’ve put in good performances against them before. Yes they’ll be at home and it will be a different situation, but that’s all we can really concentrate on at the moment and try not let the big picture get in the way of the here and now.”