Jump to main content


PWC logo

Briggs: Establishing National U-20 Pathway ‘A Natural Progression For Us’

Briggs: Establishing National U-20 Pathway ‘A Natural Progression For Us’

Head coach Niamh Briggs is taking a 28-strong squad to Parma for the Ireland Under-20 Women's first ever Six Nations Women's Summer Series campaign ©INPHO/Ryan Byrne

The countdown is on to the Ireland Under-20 Women’s opening match at the inaugural Six Nations Women’s Summer Series, which kicks off in Parma, Italy next Thursday.

Niamh Briggs’ Ireland Under-20s (sponsored by PwC) have got a solid training block behind them, gearing up for that first round clash with England, before they also take on hosts Italy and Scotland.

Run across three match days on July 4, 9, and 14, there will be live coverage of Ireland’s games on the Six Nations Rugby Under-20s YouTube channel, as well as here on IrishRugby.ie.

The Women’s Summer Series’ debut will showcase the best talent at this level across the competing nations, with teams made up of predominately U-20 players, but with each Union able to select up to three U-23 players per matchday squad.

The freshly-announced Ireland squad has been trimmed down and finalised, and Arklow RFC product Jane Neill, who currently plays for Galwegians in the Energia All-Ireland League, will captain Briggs’ side up front. UL Bohemian star Kate Flannery is the vice-captain.

Having overseen Ireland’s preparations at the IRFU High Performance Centre, along with a warm-up game against Wicklow and a recent training camp with England, Briggs believes the Summer Series is very important for the development of these young players.

“It’s obviously huge, it’s a natural progression for us,” she said. “For a long time, we have been looking for these pathways to be put in place. We have been looking for structures around the 18s and 20s (age groups). It’s so important.

“What it does is give players time. When you look back a couple of years ago at that (senior international) trip to Japan, we had four or five 18-year-olds. It’s a really difficult place to learn, international rugby is tough.

“This gives players time to expose themselves to better opposition, and I suppose expose themselves to higher level rugby, expose themselves to camp and the environment that that brings.

“It’s all a huge learning for them. Not everyone in the squad is going to go on and play senior rugby for Ireland, but we have to make sure we prepare them and put them in the best possible position so that they have a chance to go and do that.

“The fact that we now have an U-18 national squad and an U-20 national squad, it definitely helps to bridge that gap for those players heading into senior rugby.”

The unique competition rules mean that the Waterford native, who is supported by assistant coaches JP Walsh and Murray Houston, has been able to bring in Ruth Campbell, Amanda McQuade, Chisom Ugwueru, Faith Oviawe, and Ivana Kiripati who all fit in the U-23 category.

Ugwueru had a stellar season, scoring 17 All-Ireland League tries in some eye-catching performances for UL Bohs. The Ennis flyer ran in a hat-trick and was the player-of-the-match as UL reclaimed the league title in style by sweeping past Railway Union at the Aviva Stadium.

Having lit up the Ireland back-line for many years herself, Briggs is clearly excited by Ugwueru’s potential, saying: “Chisom is a huge talent, a naturally gifted athlete, but with that, she works incredibly hard behind the scenes.

“She is incredibly good in terms of the gym and her training. It’s a brilliant opportunity for her to develop some more rugby knowledge.

“I think that’s definitely something she is eager to do in order to put herself back into that shop window from a senior point of view.”

It has been a very positive last year or so for Women’s rugby on these shores, rolling back to last summer and the Ireland Women’s Sevens team’s historic qualification for the Olympic Games. They followed up with their first ever HSBC SVNS Series tournament win in Perth in January.

Success came for Ireland’s 15s side at the WXV3 tournament in Dubai last October, before a hard-fought third place finish in the Guinness Women’s Six Nations earned them the double prize of a place at the 2025 Women’s Rugby World Cup and entry into WXV’s top tier.

Young players, including a number of the Parma-bound panel, have shone at All-Ireland League level, or during the Vodafone Women’s Interprovincial Championship or the expanded Celtic Challenge competition.

This year’s Ireland Under-18 Women’s team also impressed at the U-18 Women’s Six Nations Festival in Colwyn Bay, registering wins over Italy, Wales, and Scotland (scoring eight tries to beat the Scots 48-7 in a full 70-minute international).

Asked if she thought Irish Women’s rugby had turned a corner in recent times, Briggs replied: “Yeah, hugely. I think there’s been very good people behind the scenes pushing the game for quite a while over the last few years, and I think it’s getting to a stage now where they’re starting to find their feet again and it’s been hugely positive.

“I think the people in the game, we knew that it was going to take a little bit of time around the patience factor because we knew what was coming through in terms of the work that had been done on the ground for so long.

“I think bringing in the WNTS (Women’s National Talent Squad) structure, the Celtic Challenge, it’s just exposing players and the game to higher levels which is so important for us, and for this game going forward.”

The 2013 Grand Slam winner, Munster’s full-time Provincial Talent Coach in the WNTS pathway since last year, stressed that the hard work being done at the IRFU HPC, across all four provinces, and also in the IQ Rugby programme, still has a long way to go.

With a clear determination and focus to keep building on the recent progress made, she acknowledged: “I think it’s really positive, but we’re not running away with ourselves.

“We are still very aware around the work that’s being done but I think we’re going with the mantra of trying to get better every day.

“You can see straight away the hard work that has gone in and we’re getting athletes that are coming through that are definitely better athletes in terms of their physical ability but also their rugby knowhow, which is massive.

“It means that in these camps (coming up to the Summer Series), we can push our knowledge quicker and get where we need to go faster. It creates a huge amount of strength in depth, which is what we been craving for a long time.”

She added: “I think you can see the fruition of that (hard work) now around the 20s, and the buzz around the 15s side in Belfast for that last (Six Nations) game against Scotland.

“Number one, the crowd was absolutely insane, but it was men, women, and children. I thought it was unbelievable and the support is out there. I think if that’s the case, then you know the game is going to be in a better place come twelve to 18 months’ time.”