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McWilliams: Comeback Shows Confidence In What They’re Trying To Do

McWilliams: Comeback Shows Confidence In What They’re Trying To Do

Ireland head coach Greg McWilliams is pictured with captain Nichola Fryday during the post-match press conference at Ecopa Stadium ©INPHO/Akito Iwamoto

Ireland head coach Greg McWilliams believes there is a ‘special group forming’ after watching his new-look squad overcome a shaky start to run out impressive 57-22 winners over Japan.

Neve Jones’ hat-trick of tries was the scoring highlight of a famous night for Irish Women’s rugby in Shizuoka, as the first game of their historic summer tour finished in a resounding nine-try victory.

There were big performances from a number of players, most notably Enya Breen, captain Nichola Fryday, Jones and 18-year-old out-half Dannah O’Brien, who slotted over six conversions on her debut.

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While acknowledging that conceding two early tries had them under pressure and there remains plenty to work on, McWilliams was understandably pleased with how his charges bounced back to produce an ultimately dominant display.

“It was important for us to show what we’re made of as a group. I think when we went down 15-0 at the very start, very quickly, many teams could have dropped their heads, but they showed the composure within the group,” he said at the post-match press conference.

“It shows that they’re confident in each other and they’re confident in what we’re trying to do. I’m just very proud as a head coach, first and foremost to represent Ireland as a group and to get the win is what you always want to do for your country.

“As management staff and as a player group, we’ve got to be exceptionally proud. The girls have put in a phenomenal amount of work since the Six Nations to try and make sure that we were going to be the best we can be for this tour.

“Nichola (Fryday) has been absolutely phenomenal as a leader and as a captain. The whole country should be lucky to have her looking after this group of players.”

While Fryday’s leadership and lineout ability shone through, newcomer O’Brien led a youthful back-line that showed their finishing skills with tries run in by Aoife Doyle, debut duo Aoife Dalton and Méabh Deely, and Molly Scuffil-McCabe who got game-time at scrum half.

Tullow starlet O’Brien was spoken about in the build-up as a bright prospect and she certainly put her best foot forward against the Sakura Fifteen.

McWilliams was delighted that the young guns were able to show what they can do, remarking: “In Dannah we have a generational player, only 18, but we have a few of them, Méabh Deely, Aoife Dalton, Leah Tarpey, Natasja Behan, all these players are the future of Irish rugby.

“I can’t wait to see where Dannah gets to as an individual. It’s up to us to help her now. Our job now is to develop Dannah, and there are still areas of her game to work on. She has a lot to learn.

“I’m thinking about her family, her rugby club (Tullow RFC), they can be very proud of what they’ve done to develop her. She’s a special talent.

“Maybe people questioned giving the young players an opportunity. I’d no fear. You have to trust people and allow them to show what they are made of and express themselves.

“And there is another group of players who had been though the disappointments, Parma last year (missing out on Rugby World Cup qualification) who had to dig into their soul. Yeah, it’s hard on them you know. They’re a credit.

“We’re very proud of them, you can see that there’s a special group forming. It was also important for us to show what we’re made of now as a group, particularly since we’re not going to the World Cup.”

To put the result in context, it was Ireland’s biggest points tally and try haul in over seven years. Japan came into the series with the benefit of a number of recent Tests, including triumphs over Fiji, eighth-ranked Australia and South Africa.

It was Ireland’s best ever comeback in a Women’s international, surpassing their 14-point fight-back against Japan at the 2017 Rugby World Cup. Tokyo awaits next week and a shot at clinching the series.

“We have to enjoy this win but we need to constantly get better, starting from next week,” insisted McWilliams. “These girls are the future of Irish rugby and showed that they belonged on this stage.

“Hopefully they can enjoy tonight, they should do because they’ve worked bloody hard. Rest tomorrow and (they) are back in on Monday for our install day. We’ve got to get better and constantly evolve.”