Having a clear strategy to back up their physical effort against France is key for Ireland’s hopes in Saturday’s TikTok Women’s Six Nations showdown, according to head coach Greg McWilliams.
McWilliams has put his faith in an unchanged matchday 23 for tomorrow’s tussle in Toulouse, as Ireland get to test themselves against the world’s third-ranked team.
Ireland have overcome France on three previous occasions – all at home, in 2009, 2013 (both in Ashbourne) and 2017 (Donnybrook) – but the closest they came to beating les Bleues on French soil was an 8-7 loss in Pau 10 years ago.
McWilliams was the team’s backs and attack coach in 2014 when Ireland lost a Rugby World Cup 3rd-4th place play-off to France in Paris. His class of 2022 will have to play smart rugby if they want to upset the formbook tomorrow.
“You’ve got to match them physically but you can’t just focus on the physical, you’ve got to be smart in how you do it. There’s got to be a strategy behind it,” he explained.
“Because if you just go in thinking about your physicality, 15 minutes into the game if it’s quite even or if they start getting ahead and you’ve no plan behind that that’s when things can kind of untangle.
“So it’s important that we are concentrating on being physical to match France, and we learnt that last week against Wales that also there has to be a strategy behind it.
“As a player group and a coaching staff we’re trying to implement a plan that we believe is one that can go well against France this week, which is being physical and also having a plan around that.”
Ireland’s new-look side will certainly learn a lot about themselves at a noisy Stade Ernest Wallon. Their head coach is confident the players will not make the same mistakes again, with a real focus on cutting down on the penalties and defensive errors from last week.
On fielding the same starting XV, McWilliams noted: “I think it’s really important that you give players an opportunity to rectify and to improve. I think it shows confidence in the group, I think it shows that there’s good cohesion.
“It was tough calls, both the decision from the (coaching) group and from the players that we go again with the same (team), that everyone deserved that.
“I mean sometimes as a coach, you make one or two changes to a team – particularly my first game in charge to the second game – that can sometimes send the wrong picture. I fully trust the group that we have to go again.”
There were plenty of lessons to take forward from last Saturday’s 27-19 defeat to Wales, positives too with the likes of Sam Monaghan impressing up front, winning eight lineouts and throwing a couple of deft offloads.
Aoibheann Reilly, on her debut at scrum half, had a passing accuracy of almost 93%, while centre Eve Higgins had arguably her best game in the green jersey so far, beating six defenders and making 80 metres off eight carries.
“We learnt a lot against Wales. There’s a certain amount of moxie that you need to play this game. It’s important that we understand that you need to have that as well as having the smarts,” admitted McWilliams.
“You need to be able to go into those physical cauldrons and compete. I think the group are aware of the areas we’re working on, they’ve applied themselves brilliantly this week.
And now we just have to go out to France and test ourselves against formidable opposition. They have power and pace, particularly when they play at home. They get good energy off the crowd as well.
“It’s going to come at us from all angles, it’s important for us that we can just improve on our performance from last week but also to be in the game. To start trading blows is important for us with teams.
“We’ve got to continually look to improve our DNA to make sure that’s central to what we’re doing when we represent Ireland.”
The Dubliner also acknowledged the support they have been receiving from the IRFU High Performance department, including Performance Director David Nucifora and two of the men’s squad coaches, Paul O’Connell and John Fogarty.
McWilliams’ favouring of an open, attacking brand of rugby will not change, but in order to play well against teams of the calibre of France and reigning Six Nations champions England, an all-court game is required.
“Rugby’s a game where you need to be able to play the structured and the unstructured. There’s no doubt that we’ve focused on the unstructured and our ability to be skilful and play open,” he added.
“But you also need to have the ability to play tight and to play narrow. Our plan and our vision doesn’t change at all, it’s the same vision that we had before Wales.
“But we grow and we understand that, look this is great but there’s some things we need to tidy up on to be more successful.
“We’ve had really good support from Dave Nucifora, from the likes of Paul O’Connell and John Fogarty, who helped out my coaches and did a lot of work on our prep as well. So to have their support is great.
“The vision that we have is one that we have full confidence in. That doesn’t change this weekend against France no matter what the result is.
“We’re really comfortable with our process. We’ve just got to get better at it and it’s just going to take a little bit of time to gel and to link and to build up our caps and our cohesion.”