Newly-capped Ireland prop Christy Haney’s journey to international rugby is particularly interesting, right from her sporting background Stateside to captaining Leinster and breaking into the national squad.
A native of Virginia in the United States, Haney started out playing in her local university at the age of 18. A couple of years later, she gained representative honours with the USA Rugby Collegiate All-American team, picking up two caps on a tour of Canada.
However, her Irish ancestry ensured she always had a burning desire to make the journey over to these shores.
Since taking up a course at UCD six years ago, she has become a permanent resident of Ireland and was included one of nine uncapped players in Greg McWilliams’ Ireland squad for his first TikTok Women’s Six Nations campaign as head coach.
After being an unused replacement for the opening round defeat to Wales, Haney replaced Katie O’Dwyer for the second half of last Saturday’s 40-5 loss to France in Toulouse.
“I started playing when I was 18, in college at the University of Virginia. I didn’t know it at the time, but they handed out flyers. I rocked up to my first training session on a Tuesday and was playing tighthead prop by Saturday,” she explained.
“It was very much a trial by fire. My coach was like, ‘you’re gonna love it or hate it’, and I loved it. The rugby IQ in the States is different from here, but the quality of the programme and community they had set up made up for that.
“I had four years of just really high intensity rugby and then came here and played with St. Mary’s for two years, where I got to play with players of the quality of (former Ireland captain) Paula Fitzpatrick.
“Also in the Leinster squad with players like (recently-retired international) Lindsay Peat. I had the fundamentals, but I got to soak in all the knowledge of those players around me. That was unreal.”
Expanding on her Irish connection, Haney said: “My grandma’s from Tipperary (Borrisokane) so it (coming over) was always on my bucket list. I got a Masters in structural engineering from UCD.
“Then I was playing rugby on the side and after I said, ‘sure why not, I’ll stay’. That was 2016 and it was my first time in Europe.
“I joke with the guys in my office that I had a five-year plan. A rugby five-year plan and a work one. I’m applying for my chartership this year and also just got a green jersey, so it’s been quite a five years.”
Like her club and international team-mate Maeve Óg O’Leary, who was born and raised in Tipperary, Haney played a lot of softball before ultimately focusing her full attention on rugby.
It was a tough transition initially, but her international debut – on the back of captaining Leinster earlier this season in the IRFU Women’s Interprovincial Championship – is testament to how hard she has worked on developing her game.
I get slagged a bit at the front of the lineout for my deep squat because I was always a catcher in softball. Rugby brought a new challenge when I was 18. I’d played no contact sports. It was a huge learning experience.
“I rocked up to my first game and was like, ‘how long are these?, and was like, ‘jeez, I have to run for 80 minutes?!’. But a lot of us on the team have that, we’re very adaptable.
“A handful have played from an early age, but the rest of us have come from other sports. Not only used those as building blocks, but also our life experience, our jobs, our critical thinking. That unifies us as a team.”
Asked about her first experience of Test rugby and how she found it, the 28-year-old acknowledged: “I had the privilege of making the first hit after half-time which was nice as it settles you as a player, especially as a prop – the contact is my favourite.
“That really helped but then it just flew, it’s such a high-paced game. Other than that, you are learning how to time things and play as a unit, that’s been great the last couple of weeks as well.”
This Sunday at Musgrave Park, Ireland will be hoping to leave behind the disappointment of losing heavily to France by overcoming Italy for the fourth time in the space of 18 months.
Haney, who was an Energia All-Ireland League runner-up with Blackrock College this year, admitted last weekend’s result was tough to take, but it was one that the squad took with a unified front.
“We were all very frustrated with it. We’re all high-achieving women so we hold ourselves to high standards and accountability,” she admitted.
“We did a little reality, but there’s a policy there of not doing it right away so we were all there for each other and supported each other.
“Doing hard things makes us better people. I tell the minis this in Blackrock, so we came into that changing room as better people.”
As they look to make further scrum improvements in Cork this weekend, she added: “France presented a very unified pack, which was physically what we noticed most. The drive and the pressure, we’re able to meet them there. I have no doubt we’re going to get there with our scrum.
“It’s just a matter of bringing that unity. That unity is what drives that power forward and that physically is what I felt in the front row. They had that great platform.
“There’s something about being at home and in Cork that will bring a boost and confidence and we’ve gone back together, reviewed the tape, and are coming out of the third week in a row with that little bit more confidence.
“Obviously, we have to take on a lot of learnings from last week but there’s also a lot of excitement this week to perform and follow through on the things we know we can do.”