While the 2022 TikTok Women’s Six Nations has been a steep learning curve for many players within the Ireland squad, the same is true of assistant coach Niamh Briggs.
A veteran of 62 Ireland caps over a decade-long international career (2008 to 2018), the two-time Championship winner joined Greg McWilliams’ management team in advance of this year’s Six Nations.
Thanks to coaching roles with UL Bohemians and Munster in recent years, Briggs had experience behind her coming into an exciting new position. Nonetheless, it has not been without its challenges for the Waterford native.
“It has definitely been fairly full-on, but it has been really enjoyable. I’ve really enjoyed learning from Greg and the lads, but also building relationships and a rapport with the girls,” she said.
“It has been brilliant for me in terms of understanding what high performance coaching is. It’s small things. How you view a game, the message that you give to players. That has all been a big learning curve for me.
“I know the results haven’t gone our way at times, but I’ve enjoyed it so much. I can’t wait to get back into the camp and see everyone again tomorrow (Wednesday) from a coaching point of view.
“When you see small things, players making good decisions or things that you’ve been working on in training in the build-up to the game and they do it in the game, it just gives you a huge buzz. It has been great. Definitely a crash course, though!”
Due to call-ups to the Ireland Sevens squad ahead of their World Series tournament in Langford, it was a much-changed back-line that took to the field for last Sunday’s fourth round clash with England.
While only Nicole Cronin and Kathryn Dane remained as starting backs from the impressive win over Italy at Musgrave Park a fortnight earlier, Briggs embraced working with a fresh set of players for the visit to Leicester.
“I actually was excited about the challenge, to be fair. It didn’t really feel like it was a new back-line. Obviously Sene (Naoupu) had come into the squad the previous week for a camp, but she’s an incredibly experienced player so to have her in there was great.
“Her direction and her ability to help the younger girls, especially the likes of Molly (Scuffil-McCabe) on her first cap, who I thought was really, really good.
“It was a really tough day for her (Scuffil-McCabe), but I thought she managed and coped really, really well. We knew the test that we were going to be up against
We understood that we were going to be put under pressure to have a huge amount of possession. It was going to be pretty limited and we tried to come up with a way that would probably suit us as we hadn’t been together for a huge amount of time.
“It was exciting. We got to know the likes of Niamh Byrne and Molly (who both made their debuts in the game) really, really well in terms of having not had a huge amount of time with them, but it was great.
“It’s just building for us now. We’re just building a squad that we can go forward with and while we add in players every now and then, you know that you’ve got a core that you’ve enjoyed working with, and are willing to continue to develop.”
Last Sunday’s fixture was a frustrating one for the aforementioned Cronin, who was forced off on the half hour mark with a back injury.
The UL Bohemians and Munster star may well feature in Ireland’s final round showdown with Scotland at Kingspan Stadium on Saturday (kick-off 8pm), but Briggs revealed there are some definite absentees for the game.
“Nicole is being reviewed daily. We’re hopeful she might be involved this weekend, similar to Sam Monaghan.
“Eimear (Considine) has had a scan and we’re awaiting results on that, but she will be unavailable for this weekend unfortunately. Aoife Wafer is injured, she got injured last week so she’ll be unavailable as well.”
Having suffered a heavy defeat to England last weekend – their third loss in four games this year – Ireland will be looking to end their Six Nations campaign on a high.
It will be their first time to play at the home of Ulster Rugby since a 2017 Rugby World Cup play-off encounter with Wales, and the preparation for the contest begins in earnest later today.
“We’re heading to Belfast in the morning (Wednesday) so we’re really excited. We’re going to train in Queen’s. We’re just going to try and break down that English result,” added Briggs.
“Things that we did well and things that we didn’t do so well, and try and improve that. That’s going to be the big driver.
“We’re just going to really focus on ourselves over the next few days. Hopefully then, come Saturday evening, we can put on a performance that we know that we’re capable of.”