Co-captain Edel McMahon believes Ireland’s thorough WXV3 preparations should stand them in good stead when they kick off the inaugural tournament against Kazakhstan tomorrow. You can register for free to watch the match live on RugbyPass TV.
Their acclimatisation to the intense Dubai heat started back at the IRFU High Performance Centre, with the gradual increasing of heat exposure in the training environment and getting the players used to operating in such humid conditions.
Tomorrow evening’s kick-off time of 7.30pm local time (4.30pm Irish time) should see the temperature cool somewhat to the low 30s, which was similar to what they experienced for their most recent Test win during last year’s tour to Japan.
Ahead of the Ireland Women’s first 15s international match in the Middle East, McMahon said: “We’ve had four weeks prep now at this stage, with heated climatisation techniques, getting two or three shots of that heat a week.
“We’ve been doing bike sessions and then they’ve been making us do these challenging memory games afterwards to see how we’re coping with the stress of heat.
“As a group we’ve done well, and in fairness every other team is out here experiencing the same challenges.
“I suppose one thing to note is that we’re training in the peak of the heat, and it’s a bit of a relief to know our matches are on in the evening time, so it’s not going to be as bad as what we’ve been experiencing. All in all, I think everyone has embraced the environment.”
Ice vests, caps, visors and wet towels were used by the Ireland players to keep cool during the Captain’s Run at The Sevens Stadium complex, which will host the opening three WX3 fixtures over the next two days – Fiji v Colombia, Ireland v Kazakhstan, and Spain v Kenya.
As well as providing an opportunity to build some momentum on the pitch, the Dubai campaign gives the girls in green more time together in camp and a chance to bond further in a tour setting.
New head coach Scott Bemand has brought seven uncapped players to the UAE, and three of them (Sarah Delaney, Megan Collis and Eimear Corri) are poised to make their debuts against Kazakhstan, whom Ireland have not played in nine years.
Their last meeting was a 40-5 pool victory for Ireland at the 2014 Rugby World Cup in France, when current backs coach Niamh Briggs and Larissa Muldoon, who is also part of the coaching staff in Dubai, were both involved in the squad.
With the likes of 18-year-old hooker Delaney quickly adapting to the international set-up, McMahon explained: “The new talent almost seem very confident and relaxed in the environment, so it doesn’t feel like a new squad really. There is a good mix of experience with new talent.
“I think everyone has embraced the environment. It’s been challenging for sure, but I think the whole experience has brought the team closer together. People are genuinely having a bit of craic and are enjoying the challenge.”
One positive that Ireland took forward from last season’s disappointing TikTok Women’s Six Nations was their scrum, which had the second best success rate in the Championship of 91.3%.
The strong-carrying Linda Djougang packs down at loosehead prop tomorrow for her 30th cap, with all eight starting forwards, including newly-appointed co-captains McMahon and Sam Monaghan, having cap tallies in double figures.
The pair have felt well supported by their team-mates and coaches in the joint-leadership role, and Kilmihil native McMahon’s reaction was ‘so far, so good’ when asked about leading the squad into what is shaping up to be a bright new dawn.
So far (the co-captaincy) has actually not been too bad. Me and Sam have a good relationship before this anyway, we were team-mates in Wasps and genuinely good friends as well.
“When it was announced it was going to be a co-captaincy, I had a bit of a sigh of relief that I got to do it with Sam. We work well together, we have a good, honest relationship so that has probably put the two of us at ease and we can bounce off each other in sessions.
“In fairness, we have a player performance group with a lot of other girls who are leaders, so it’s not felt like we had to take the role on by ourselves.”
The proof in the pudding will be performances and results on the pitch, as Ireland, currently ranked 11th in the world, return to competitive action against three teams ranked below them. Kazakhstan are 18th overall, Colombia are 25th, and Spain, the six-in-a-row Rugby Europe Women’s champions, are 13th.
McMahon is looking forward to seeing what they can achieve under Bemand, with qualification for Rugby World Cup 2025 the initial goal. That could be achieved gradually through the WXV pathway, but a quicker route there would be via a third place finish in the 2024 Six Nations.
“I think the girls have respected Scott’s rugby CV and what he’s done and the fact that he’s worked with Women’s rugby. In fairness, he’s gelled very well with the squad,” added the Exeter Chiefs flanker.
“Straight away there was a good buy-in with the way he wants us to play the game and his general culture of the group. It’s been a good change.”