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Bemand: Sam And Edel Have The Qualities To Grow The Group

Bemand: Sam And Edel Have The Qualities To Grow The Group

Scott Bemand is pictured during the Ireland Women's training session at the IRFU High Performance Centre on Thursday ©INPHO/Laszlo Geczo

New head coach Scott Bemand hailed Sam Monaghan and Edel McMahon as the ‘two outstanding candidates for the job’ as the pair were confirmed as co-captains for the Ireland Women’s inaugural WXV campaign in Dubai.

With 36 caps between them, forwards Monaghan and McMahon will share the captaincy duties for Ireland’s upcoming WX3 clashes with Kazakhstan, Colombia and Spain. They replace previous captain Nichola Fryday who retired from international rugby in July.

Given that there are seven uncapped players included in Bemand’s 30-player squad, and with Ireland aiming to bounce back from a disappointing TikTok Six Nations finish of sixth, it is important to have two steady hands at the tiller.

“From the captaincy perspective, Sam and ‘Tricky’ (McMahon) are quite simply, and first and foremost, the two outstanding candidates for the job at this time,” explained Bemand, who started his new position with the IRFU on August 21.

“So whether they be centralised in Ireland, non-centralised or UK-based (players), we’ve just picked it as who are the best people for the job at this point. Brilliantly, both have said, ‘I still feel like I have room to grow in this role’, which is perfect for where we’re at.

“So we’ll go (to Dubai) with high support within the leadership capacity. The leadership group will sit as bigger than just two people, so that will have the blend. Rather than narrowing, you’re looking to keep voices from different environments. There will be representation from all groups.”

Along with Bemand navigating the way forward on the pitch, another key appointment for the IRFU Women’s 15s programme is the addition of a High Performance Leadership & Culture lead, Sean Ryan, who worked with the Munster coaching team last season.

Ryan joined up with the national programme in July and will ‘support both the coaching staff and the players around campaign planning, clarity, culture and leadership’, according to Gillian McDarby, the IRFU Head of Women’s Performance & Pathways.

Acknowledging the work that Ryan has already done particularly with regards to leadership, Bemand continued:

There’s some really strong processes put in place that will really allow people to shine. It will be two-way conversations rather than a one-way funnel from staff out to players.

“You can also be outside of a leadership group and lead. Part of Sam and Tricky’s job is to be inclusive, is to be challenging when required, motivating when required, empathetic when required. The two of them, I believe they’ve got the qualities that I think will grow the group.”

Second row Monaghan, who is from Navan in County Meath and stands at 5ft 11in, has quickly become an influential figure in the Irish pack since making her debut against Spain in 2021.

A previous team-mate of McMahon’s at Wasps, she was the Rugby Players Ireland Women’s 15s Players’ Player of the Year in 2022, with her aerial ability, strong carrying and slick offloading all standing out.

McMahon, a real terrier of an openside flanker, will hopefully get a run of games back in the green jersey after missing the 2023 Six Nations. She finished last season as a Women’s Premier 15s runner-up with new club Exeter Chiefs, losing the final to Monaghan’s Gloucester-Hartpury side.

McMahon’s leadership qualities were duly noted by her Exeter team-mates back in January. They elected the Kilmihil native as the club’s representative on the inaugural Players’ Board of the Women’s Rugby Association in England.

It will be a proud moment for McMahon to lead out the Ireland team, especially as her good friend and former team-mate, Claire Molloy, who influenced her move across the water after the 2019 Six Nations, was skipper for the 2017 World Cup.

“I think Sam and Tricky are the right people for the job, and I think they’re the right people for developing their leadership skills within this developing group,” added Bemand, who was previously England’s lead coach and attack coach across an eight-year span.

“The first rationale of why we’re going for co-captains at this stage – the strategic importance of this tour is to learn how to perform again and to unearth talent.

“By the time we get to 2024 and the (Rugby World Cup) qualification process, we want to know what the leadership groups look like. We want to know what captaincy looks like, so we’ve got a bit of time where we can grow that.”

The former Harlequins, Leicester Tigers and Bath scrum half outlined that his appointment of co-captains covers the WXV3 tournament for the moment, but that it could be the start of a more permanent tandem leadership for the girls in green.

“The plan is to give people space to grow into roles. So, yes, we’ve announced this (co-captaincy) as a WXV appointment but there’s no reason why it couldn’t continue.

“It at least lets us look at it, review it, talk to the players, talk to the staff, and work out what’s best for us going into 2024,” he added.