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Temple-Jones: Players Are Stepping Up, We Need That Internal Competition

Temple-Jones: Players Are Stepping Up, We Need That Internal Competition

Temple-Jones: Players Are Stepping Up, We Need That Internal Competition

Ireland Women's Sevens head coach Allan Temple-Jones is pictured during the recent media day at the IRFU High Performance Centre in Blanchardstown ©INPHO/Dan Sheridan

Allan Temple-Jones will become the first coach to lead an Ireland Women’s Sevens team at an Olympic Games when they go for glory in Paris next summer.

The Ireland Women (sponsored by TritonLake) secured their golden ticket in Toulouse last May, finishing fifth overall in the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series with three fourth place finishes across the campaign.

Temple-Jones came in as head coach back in March after previously being the Ireland Sevens’ Head of Athletic Performance. He spent two seasons with the Sharks in his native South Africa before returning to the Sevens base at the IRFU High Performance Centre.

Having failed to make the 2020 Olympics, qualification for Paris was a huge target for everyone involved with the Ireland Women’s Sevens programme which started back in 2014. Temple-Jones admits it was a ‘big relief’ to qualify via the World Series.

“We were probably all involved in the programme when we didn’t qualify for the last Olympics. It’s an unbelievable relief to have that big goal taken care of already, so it’s a massive relief,” he said.

“We don’t have to be worrying about qualifying come June or July next year. It’s really positive for us.”

As well as the excitement surrounding the Olympic year, the revamped HSBC SVNS season, which begins this weekend in Dubai, will offer top-class competition at seven combined Men’s and Women’s events before a new ‘winner-takes-all’ grand final in Madrid.

The top eight-placed teams will qualify for the title decider in Madrid (May 31-June 2), and along with SVNS ranking points helping to decide seedings for the Olympics, there is the added drama of the new promotion/relegation system.

“The vibe is really good (in camp), but it’s challenging in the same vein in that you’ve now got to refocus and the Olympics is coming so we’ve almost got to leave it alone for now.

“We’ve just got to make sure that come Dubai and Cape Town, we’re preparing for each one of those events because the back-end of the SVNS Series is promotion/relegation (play-offs involving the bottom four and the Challenger Series’ top four).

“So if we don’t do well within the first seven events, there is the risk of promotion/relegation. We don’t want to go down that route. Unbelievable atmosphere with regards to, yes, we know the big goal is coming with an Olympics.

“But there’s eight massive steps to lead into the Olympics which we’ve got to use to make sure we’re ready and prepped to not just go and make up the numbers. We really want to go as a group and compete for medals, that’s our job. We want to go and perform.”

While delighted to make it through to the Olympics last season, there was a frustration that Ireland could not convert quarter-final wins into eventual podium finishes. The USA denied them bronze in both Cape Town and Sydney, and Australia did likewise in Hamilton.

They medalled during the previous World Series campaign in Seville and Langford, and with captain Lucy Mulhall a real driving force for the squad, there is a quiet confidence that they can reach another gear in terms of consistency.

Speaking about Mulhall’s influence and how she has helped with Vikki Wall’s transition to Sevens, Temple-Jones acknowledged: “Lucy is an unbelievable leader for us and we all know what a player she is on the international stage.

“She’s an unbelievable ambassador for Irish Rugby and Irish Women’s sport. She is, as we all know, a really strong leader for us. I suppose she did that transition herself many years ago (from Gaelic football to Sevens).

“People often forget that but, yes, it’s really positive. Lucy’s been a good link between Vikki and herself and obviously we’ve got a support group for Vikki. A lot of those players come into that with regards to helping Vikki.”

The Meath Gaelic football star has been training with the Ireland Sevens programme since August. She is hoping to hit the ground running once she pulls on the Ireland jersey for the first time. According to Temple-Jones, she is heading in the right direction.

“She is doing really well. Vikki Wall is an elite athlete, she’s a high-performing athlete and she’s settling in really well,” he confirmed.

“She’s come from elite sport in Gaelic football and Women’s AFL and she’s really fitted in well. She’s committed herself to the programme which is unbelievable for us.

“She’s got a lot of nuances to sort of learn within the rugby and coming across with regards to the different code, but credit to her.

“A lot of our athletes are learning from her and her high-performance mindset which is great for us. But she’s really, really taken to rugby and she’s showing some really good improvements which is great for us.”

Temple-Jones will have to leave a number of players behind when Ireland head to Paris next summer. With only 13 players travelling to the tournament, competition for places is really ramping up especially from the young guns who are trying to stake their claim.

The recently-announced Women’s Sevens squad for the 2024 season included a host of World Series regulars, but also newcomers like Wall and teenage starlets Alanna Fitzpatrick and Amy Larn. There are others too who are being challenged to earn more starts.

“There’s a lot of young girls that we’ve challenged through this pre-season programme to almost push on. We need that internal competition.

We’ve challenged a lot of that group that possibly weren’t our starters to become starters because for us to do well at the Olympics and compete for medals, we need to have an internal competition, an internal drive.

“We’ve really honed in a lot, during this period, around individual development, plans for players. Try to just be as open and honest with players about their development as we can.

“Players are stepping up. I think if we can continually drive that internal competition, players are forced to get better and better because there are no seats guaranteed on the plane.”

The first leg of a busy HSBC SVNS Series calendar has seen two Ireland Women’s Sevens squads fly out to Dubai, with the Development team also competing in this weekend’s International Invitational Tournament at The Sevens Stadium complex.

Looking forward to the season opener, the Ireland coach added: “Dubai is massively exciting, it’s always the first one. There’s a different element with regards to the heat going to Dubai.

“There’s always a great crowd, there’s always a great atmosphere. It’s a really good one for us. We’ve got a great opportunity to see 24 girls play (across the two tournaments there).

“We’re going to have 12, 13 on the World Series, and another 12 playing at the invitational event. It’s really good exposure for us for our whole squad. Seeing them play as well as some young girls coming in from the WNTS (Women’s National Talent Squad) programmes.”