Reflecting on her debut for Ireland on Saturday, Fiona Tuite felt that winning her first cap with this current group of players, and in front of family and friends, made it ‘extra special’ for her.
Tuite has admittedly always had her eye on the Ireland jersey, and her ambition was fulfilled when she was sprung from the bench to help the girls in green see out a 64-3 WXV3 win over Colombia in Dubai.
The 26-year-old Dubliner has had to show plenty of resilience to get to this point, with her early career stalled by broken ankle and foot injuries. She was also on the frontline during the Covid-19 pandemic as a medical physiotherapist at the Ulster Hospital.
Coming from an athletics and Gaelic football background, her focus turned to rugby in 2014 when she was called up to the Ireland Under-18 Sevens squad. The team won the European U-18 Sevens Plate that year, with Tuite playing alongside two future senior internationals, Kathryn Dane and Stacey Flood.
Following her bad run of luck with injuries, she began to make progress in the 15s game with Dublin University and Old Belvedere, firstly as a back-three player. In more recent seasons, a move to the back row, and then the second row, saw her flourish with ‘Belvo and Ulster respectively.
Tuite made three starts at lock as the Combined Provinces XV won the inaugural Celtic Challenge tournament earlier this year. She was rewarded with a place in the wider TikTok Women’s Six Nations squad and is now clearly part of Scott Bemand’s plans to get Ireland back firing on all cylinders.
Following her second half appearance against Colombia, she told Irish Rugby TV: “I was delighted to get my first cap this evening. An unbelievable experience, something I’ve waited a long, long time for and worked really hard for.
“So to get it out there with such an amazing group of people was just phenomenal. It was hot out there and Colombia were really, really good. They really brought it to us.
“It was just an incredible experience. I bawled my eyes out throughout the whole anthem, and a couple of tears after. It was just an incredible experience.”
— Irish Rugby (@IrishRugby) October 21, 2023
Pushing her way into the matchday 23 this week, Bemand praised Tuite for ‘going great in training and showing what she can do’. She is the third player to partner co-captain Sam Monaghan in the engine room so far on this tour, along with Dorothy Wall and another of the newcomers, Eimear Corri.
The strong-carrying Ulster forward was admittedly blown away by the travelling Irish support at The Sevens Stadium complex, and is readying herself for a big final week in Dubai and that winner-takes-all showdown with Spain.
It was incredible to have some family and friends here. I appreciate so much that they made the journey out here to Dubai. There were so many Irish fans.
“I looked across when I was sitting on the bench, and across the hill there were so many green jerseys. We’re so far from home, so to have family and friends travelling out it just makes it extra special for us and everyone else that’s here as well.”
She added: “Spain next weekend and we know they’re really going to bring it. They’ve had a great tournament so far as well. It’s going to be a tough training week, there’s a lot to work on from this game against Colombia.
“I think it was great that Colombia really brought it to us, we had to defend for long periods there and we’ll definitely have to do the same against Spain next week. So, little things to tweak but looking forward to a tough week in the sun again.”
Meanwhile, co-captain Edel McMahon was pleased to produce another defensive shutout as Ireland prevented the Colombians from scoring a try. They did go close off a lineout maul but Dannah O’Brien was able to hold up Natalia Barajas.
“Not conceding a try was a big bonus. Defensively it just meant that we didn’t switch out for the full 80 minutes. That was probably our most crucial part of that game,” admitted McMahon.
“Although the scores are coming (for us), Colombia hit a purple patch in the second half, and for the girls to switch it around and turn it into a score was probably our biggest take from that game.”
Next Saturday’s WXV3 decider brings together Ireland and Spain for the first time since their 2021 Rugby World Cup qualifier encounter. Las Leonas won 8-7 in Parma, with Lea Ducher’s 71st-minute try proving crucial in deciding the outcome.
Monaghan and McMahon were both involved in that match as replacements, the former making her debut. Béibhinn Parsons, the scorer of Ireland’s only try that day, Linda Djougang, Wall, Brittany Hogan and Neve Jones are also set to line out against Spain again.
“To be honest I haven’t been thinking about the game that we played before,” said McMahon, when asked about renewing rivalries with Spain. “They’re a different squad, we’re a completely different squad. We’re off the back of two good wins and two good performances.
“There’s a lot there that we can take from that (Colombia) game. We’ll have to fix and tweak some of our execution, but we can bring confidence into the Spain game.
“Spain are off the back of two good wins as well, so they’ll be in a good position. But we’re just going to focus on us, and focus on what we can do next week to tackle that.”