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‘Our Squad Depth Has Grown Through Tough Spell’ – Temple-Jones

‘Our Squad Depth Has Grown Through Tough Spell’ – Temple-Jones

‘Our Squad Depth Has Grown Through Tough Spell’ – Temple-Jones

The Ireland Women's Sevens players and coaching staff huddle together during Tuesday's training session at the IRFU High Performance Centre in Blanchardstown ©INPHO/Laszlo Geczo

Head coach Allan Temple-Jones believes the Ireland Women’s Sevens squad is all the stronger for coming through an inconsistent run of form during the closing half of the HSBC SVNS Series season.

Perth and that unforgettable first SVNS Series tournament win was certainly the peak of their campaign, but the next three legs saw them finish between eighth and ninth with injuries and 15s commitments having an impact.

A hand injury saw Amee-Leigh Murphy Crowe miss all bar one of Ireland’s games in Vancouver, while she was ruled out of the LA 7s the following week when captain Lucy Rock sustained a hamstring injury that sidelined her for the remainder of the SVNS Series.

Béibhinn Parsons, Eve Higgins, and Aoibheann Reilly also switched to Ireland’s 15s camp for the Six Nations between February and April, at the end of which Scott Bemand’s side had joined their Sevens counterparts in achieving their qualification goal for next year’s Rugby World Cup.

Having averaged 16 tries per tournament between Dubai and Perth, the Ireland Sevens team’s try-scoring rate dropped to 10 in Vancouver, but notably they maintained the joint-second highest rate of scoring tries from set-piece possession with 39%.

In the absence of Rock, the leadership skills of Murphy Crowe and Stacey Flood were crucial as the Perth champions closed out the SVNS Series on a much better footing, finishing fifth in Singapore and sixth at the Madrid Grand Final.

“From an injury perspective we were quite unlucky through that block, and let’s be honest, the girls had reached a real high in Perth and you know all the psychological talk,” said Temple-Jones, speaking just a day after the squad announcement for the Olympic Games.

“You do all the hard training and making sure you get back to zero and be ready to perform again, but we didn’t perform as well as we could in Vancouver. That is something we’ve learned from.

“We had an unfortunate run of injuries in Vancouver with ‘Leigh’, and Lucy in Los Angeles the following week, and the focus for the programme shifted to sending some girls to 15s.

“We’ve come out stronger for it. We’ve been able to expose girls to the World Series, girls to starting, so I think our squad depth has really grown on the back of it and we’ve learnt lessons from the success of Perth and being able to reset and go again.”

Alanna Fitzpatrick, Clare Gorman, and Katie Corrigan all made their SVNS Series debuts in recent months, with the 19-year-old Fitzpatrick doing well enough to earn Olympic selection. Ashleigh Orchard, a mother to 10-month-old baby Arabella (pictured below), is back in the green jersey and also Paris bound.

Orchard’s compelling comeback after a five-year break, battling back from injury woe to become the first Ireland Sevens international mum and now stand on the cusp of fulfilling her Olympic dream, is one of many amazing personal stories behind the squad list.

As with any squad announcement, and especially one that only contains 12 players and two travelling reserves, Temple-Jones had to give bad news to members of the wider group who missed out, including Meath GAA star Vikki Wall who joined the Sevens programme last August.

His message to Wall and others who were close to making the cut is that they could yet play a part in the Paris Games. The motivation is clearly there to keep training hard in helping to prepare those selected, while also staying at your sharpest in case that call does comes your way.

“There’s a lot of players that were really close. We’ve got to also look at the fact that it’s still four or five weeks away. Anything can happen,” acknowledged the Durban man.

“A lot of players are still in contention and that’s the importance of keeping the group as tight as we can. Yes, there’s disappointment but we’ve got to make sure our whole squad is prepared and ready to go.

“Vikki Wall came in here never having played rugby before and she’s put her best foot forward massively. She’s been a credit to herself. She’s really got stuck in and got involved.

“She’s got some exposure around the World Series. There were a lot of girls that were disappointed. She’s one of them. Yes, she was close but she may still get there. Who knows? Players outside of the twelve may still get there.”

He added: “Vikki’s done really well and we’re still looking forward to working with her moving forward. We’ve already had conversations with her around that.

“She may have certain obligations to fulfil in certain places but absolutely, we definitely want to get her back in and see where this can go, she’s an amazing athlete and has a very high ceiling from an athletic performance perspective.

“For us as a programme and moving forward, we’ve still got the Los Angeles Olympics in 2028, so by no means is this the end of the line for us.

“We’re training on Saturday with the Ireland Under-18s (who have their own European Championship coming up next month), and we start inspiring the youngsters to come and Los Angeles in 2028 is a goal for us.”

While Wall and others have been able to stay fighting fit ahead of the Olympic selection D-Day, the hopes of two squad regulars were sadly shattered by injury in the last few weeks.

15s and Sevens scrum half Reilly unfortunately suffered the second ACL injury of her career at the Madrid Grand Final event, having worked her way back from the first one just last year.

With her recovery target now set for next year’s 15s World Cup in England, the 23-year-old took to Instagram to say: “Heartbroken to be ending the season on a horrible note. I will be rooting for my Sevens sisters at their first Games in pursuit of an Olympic medal.”

Ireland’s final tournament before Paris is the second leg of the Rugby Europe Sevens Championship in Hamburg next week. The European opener, in Makarska, Croatia at the start of the month, was marred by a bad ankle injury sustained by stand-in captain Kate Farrell McCabe.

“I’m heartbroken and frustrated for the cruel ending to the season, although I feel very fortunate to be in a position where an Olympics was even on my radar,” noted Farrell McCabe, who is ‘excited to cheer on the girls in Paris’ and ‘very proud and honoured to have been part of the journey’ to get the team there.

Meanwhile, despite regular skipper Rock not having played since March, Temple-Jones says she is right on track to have a central role in the Ireland Women’s maiden Olympic appearance at the end of July.

“Lucy got injured in Los Angeles, a very unfortunate injury being cleaned out at a ruck, so she had a bit of a hamstring injury. She’s rehabbing well, she’s running and progressing well.

“We’re looking forward to having her back in the squad. As it stands at the moment, she is progressing as we expect and we’re looking to absolutely have her in Paris,” he added.