With a third tireless 80-minute performance and a TikTok Women’s Six Nations player-of-the-match medal to boot, Sam Monaghan is quickly becoming a key player for Greg McWilliams’ Ireland side.
Her offloading ability, physicality around the pitch and set-piece strengths have really come to the fore across the opening three rounds of the 2022 Championship.
The second row’s influence was acknowledged with her selection as player-of-the-match against Italy. Speaking after the 29-8 win, head coach McWilliams praised the impact of Monaghan, newly-capped prop Christy Haney and busy openside Edel McMahon.
“I just want to give Sam the ball more,” he admitted. “Our goal is that the players come into camp thinking it’s like Christmas Eve, the night before coming into camp, and that they’re excited to come into camp.
“Hopefully we allow the players to be themselves and be able to bring their personalities, so hopefully Sam is in an environment that she feels really comfortable in now.
“She’s getting stronger, she’s working on her skills, she’s getting more and more diligent. She’s becoming a leader, this girl is somebody who has got great potential for us.
“She’s one of a number of players that are really coming on. Christy Haney today did great. She’s worked really well and then for Katie O’Dwyer to come on as a prop, I think, was really important.
“Edel McMahon was outstanding, so you just hope that players are arriving feeling that they are in a really good positive environment where they’re able to improve, get better and see the process and see the clarity in the plan that we’re trying to build.”
Meath native Monaghan made 71 metres from a dozen carries against the Azzurre. She also broke five tackles, consistently getting over the gain-line as Ireland pocketed their bonus point by the 51st minute.
The 28-year-old’s eye-catching debut at Six Nations level is all the more impressive when you consider she only took up rugby five years ago, coming in as a well-rounded athlete given her background in Gaelic football, basketball, camogie and soccer.
Ireland captain Nichola Fryday has worked closely with Monaghan since her international bow just last September, the pair starting together in the engine room for six of the team’s last seven Tests.
“She’s a quality second row,” Fryday said of her in-form lock partner. “She’s been doing it in the Premier 15s all year (with Wasps). She’s extremely skilful. I’m glad she’s finally getting the recognition she deserves because she’s a baller.”
McWilliams spoke of the players’ eagerness to get back down to work in preparation to face reigning Six Nations champions England in Leicester. They are training today and on Thursday and have a session at the IRFU High Performance Centre on Saturday.
Fryday says they are ‘excited to go up against the best team in the world and see where we lie’, a view that Monaghan echoed as they look to build on the momentum provided by their maiden victory under the new coaching team.
“This is just the start for us. This is a momentum builder now and we’ll move on from here,” she insisted.
This is the first step on the rest of our journey. We’re really excited for the next couple of weeks and want to make a big stamp on the rest of the Six Nations.
We still have a lot to work on. It’s going to be a big week of analysis and we’ll build on the mistakes we made, to try and drive forward even further.”
Ireland, who are now fourth in the table with five points to make up on Wales, will wrap up the Six Nations against Scotland at Kingspan Stadium on Saturday, April 30 (kick-off 8pm). Tickets are available to purchase here.