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Temple-Jones: It’s A Special Team, We’ve Got High Aspirations

Temple-Jones: It’s A Special Team, We’ve Got High Aspirations

Temple-Jones: It’s A Special Team, We’ve Got High Aspirations

Ireland Women's Sevens head coach Allan Temple-Jones is pictured during a training session at the IRFU High Performance Centre on Tuesday ©INPHO/Laszlo Geczo

Allan Temple-Jones says it will be a ‘massive privilege and honour’ to coach the first Ireland Women’s Sevens team to compete at an Olympic Games, when the Women’s tournament kicks off at the Stade de France on July 28.

The Ireland Women’s Olympic debut is drawing ever closer, with the sense of anticipation heightened significantly by Team Ireland’s official ratification this week of the selection of the Ireland Men’s and Women’s squads for Paris 2024.

Lucy Rock, who is returning from a hamstring injury, will captain the talented 12-player group, nine of whom were part of the squad that secured their historic Olympic qualification in Toulouse in May 2023.

The Paris-bound dozen also includes Vicky Elmes Kinlan and Alanna Fitzpatrick, who were both on the winners’ podium for last January’s breakthrough first HSBC SVNS Series tournament win in Perth, and Ashleigh Orchard who has made an inspirational international comeback.

As a strength and conditioning coach, Temple-Jones became known as the ‘fitness guru’ behind one of the South Africa Men’s Sevens team’s most successful periods, during which they won Olympic bronze in 2016, Commonwealth Games gold in 2014, and two World Series titles.

The Durban native then moved to Dublin in 2017, becoming the IRFU’s Head of Athletic Performance for Sevens Rugby. During his initial five years with the Union, the Ireland Men’s Sevens team made history by reaching the Tokyo Olympics.

Following a stint back home with the Cell C Sharks, he returned in March of last year to replace Aiden McNulty as head coach of the Ireland Women’s Sevens side, helping them to close out the season as Olympic qualifiers.

With the Ireland 15s team also qualifying for the Rugby World Cup and WXV1 most recently, Temple-Jones said: “I’ve been involved in other teams at the Olympics, but this is a special team. I was with them in 2019 when we didn’t qualify and it hurts.

“So to see the effort that the girls have put in through qualifying in the series last year, that’s massive for the whole group. For Scott (Bemand, the 15s head coach) and the Women’s 15s programme, for us to qualify and for them to qualify for the World Cup.

“It’s a special place for us in the Women’s game in Ireland at the moment so we just have to harness that. For me personally, it’s a massive honour and privilege to take these girls to the Olympics.”

There has been plenty of blood, sweat, and tears shed over the years by the three mainstays of the squad, in particular. Record try scorer Amee-Leigh Murphy Crowe has been part of the Sevens programme since making her debut in Guangzhou, China back in April 2014.

Rock and Stacey Flood won their first caps just over a year later, during the Rugby Europe Sevens Grand Prix Series in Kazan, Russia. Dubliner Flood was just 18 at the time.

Although now dubbed the ‘Crusty Dustys’ by the younger squad members, the experienced trio continue to set the standards, both on and off the pitch, and earning selection for Paris clearly meant a huge amount to them.

“You’ve got girls like Amee-Leigh and Lucy who have been involved since we weren’t qualifying for Olympics in 2019, and to see the tears in their faces once you announce them in the squad. It’s a special moment,” explained Temple-Jones.

“A rollercoaster but when you have girls like that who have invested so much of their time into the programme in tears, even though they’re almost dead certs to be in the team but you let them know, it’s an emotional rollercoaster.

“I’m so proud of the girls with the effort they’ve put in. Whittling it down to the 12 players that go to the Olympics and don’t is tough, but we’ve got to look at it from a team perspective and what’s best for the team and what’s going to give us the opportunity to win medals.

“We’re lucky that we’ve got some experienced heads that all sit together in a room and look at the whole season, not just one or two events, to try and pick the best team for Ireland to go and win a medal.”

Temple-Jones is supported in that regard by outgoing IRFU Performance Director David Nucifora, a real driving force behind the Sevens programme over the last 10 years, Gillian McDarby, the Head of Women’s Performance & Pathways, and fellow High Performance Sevens coaches, Reg Tayler and Sam Myers.

While injuries have cruelly sidelined both Aoibheann Reilly (ACL) and Kate Farrell McCabe (ankle) at a key stage of the year, Ireland’s Olympic qualification over a year out from the Games afford Temple-Jones the chance to build the squad depth and expose more players to the HSBC SVNS Series.

Portarlington youngster Fitzpatrick made her SVNS Series debut in LA in March, chalking up nine appearances during the season. She raced over for four tries during the recent Rugby Europe Sevens Championship opener in Makarska.

Fellow 19-year-old Amy Larn, who hails from Athy, also impressed in Croatia with her scrum half play and a five-try haul. She is a travelling reserve for the Olympics.

They will hope to follow in the footsteps of Wicklow pair Erin King and Elmes Kinlan who have both firmly established themselves in the national squad at just 20 and 21 respectively. Between them, they have already played 166 SVNS Series matches.

18-year-old winger Katie Corrigan, fresh from scoring three tries during her first Guinness Women’s Six Nations campaign, also got two recent Sevens tournaments under her belt, an example of the collaboration between the Sevens and 15s programmes.

Asked who has impressed him in terms of their development, Temple-Jones replied: “There’s loads of girls…we’ve got a really good core of players that have played many years. You’ve got Vicky Elmes Kinlan that has progressed massively over the season.

“With some players coming in and out between programmes we’ve been able to expose more girls to the programme with starting so someone like a Vicky Elmes Kinlan, Alanna Fitzpatrick, who only joined us out of school this time last year, has progressed really well.

“There’s numerous girls that have progressed and taken up the opportunity to not only be bench players but also get the opportunity to start and keep progressing. We’ve got a way to go, four or five weeks, but we’re happy where we are at the moment.”

That famous weekend in sunkissed Perth showed what Ireland are capable on the biggest of stages. They beat the USA, Japan, Fiji, Great Britain, and hosts Australia for a massive milestone achievement, with Rock leading by example and Murphy Crowe contributing six tries.

Their head coach is confident that they can repeat that form in the French capital and contend for medals, adding: “This group has shown what they can do. We’ve got to make sure we frame the next four or five weeks as accurately as we can.

“We really want to make sure we acknowledge the whole group and everyone that has been involved, and making sure we use the opportunity to create a legacy for young girls with regards to building rugby in the country.

“We’ve got high aspirations. We’re using Perth as a big flag for us. We know that if we go there and we’re as good as we can be, we can definitely compete. We’ve got to make sure we come there and rock and roll.

“If you shoot for a medal, often you miss but we want to go there with high ambition and be prepared as we can to shoot for a gold medal. It’s capable, we know this group can do it so we’re looking forward to the opportunity to put our best foot forward.”