Mini-groups, no fear, depth and ‘me, we’ – Ireland Women look to progress
WHEN A SQUAD includes 17 and 18-year-old prospects alongside more experienced players who are in their 30s, creating a good off-field culture is always going to be one of the challenges.
So it has been for Ireland Women with the introduction of a new wave of exciting talent, including the likes of Beibhinn Parsons, who made her debut before turning 17 back in November, and Enya Breen, who started at outside centre in last weekend’s 29-19 win over Wales, a warm-up for their Six Nations opener against England on 1 February.
Munster’s Enya Breen was at 13 last weekend. Source: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO
But the challenge has been an enjoyable one for Ireland this season as they go about attempting to ensure their squad has more viable options than ever before.
“The whole point of this is to really build some squad depth,” says Adam Griggs. “I don’t know if we’ve had that as much before, building competition for places come selection time.”
Ireland’s Six Nations squad includes eight uncapped players, although frustrations over the balance of 15s and 7s rugby in the women’s game will continue as two of the most exciting players in the country, Parsons and Eve Higgins, will be away on 7s duty in Sydney when the Six Nations kicks-off.
Niamh Briggs, a Grand Slam winner in 2013, remains out in the cold despite playing good rugby with UL Bohemians, although Griggs insists the door remains open for selection.
Ireland lost both of last year’s November Tests to the US and England – both ranked higher than them – but Griggs and his coaching staff delighted in seeing several new faces show their promise.
For captain Ciara Griffin, the emergence of young players who have been immersed in rugby for years is exciting.
“It’s developing the grassroots rugby, developing the basic skills at a young age and playing rugby all along,” back row Griffin told this week’s episode of The42 Rugby Weekly.
“Obviously, skills from other sports are transferrable but it’s such a bonus when you’ve played rugby from a young age. You develop that hand-eye coordination, identifying space, evading tacklers, it benefits you in the long run. These girls have no fear.”
In terms of integrating the new faces, Griggs says senior players like Griffin, Lindsay Peat, Claire Molloy, Sene Naoupu have taken ownership.
Griffin and Griggs with Joe Schmidt and Rory Best. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO
Griffin has been leading team bonding acitivites after training sessions when Ireland have been in camp.
Eggs, paper, masking tape and straws were involved in one challenge which made teams plan tactically, as Peat underlined her status as the most competitive person in the squad.
Griggs and his coaches, meanwhile, have broken the squad into what they call ‘mini-groups,’ who meet regularly to focus on their key areas of the game.
“We use positional units,” he explains. “For the Six Nations period, we’re using the tight five, the back row, the inside backs and the outside backs – they’re all their own units. It allows us to be able to discuss tactics and what they need to work on.”
Now over a year into his tenure as head coach, Griggs places great importance on the off-field aspect of the sport.
A New Zealand native, he came through the famed Canterbury academy and played for the Tasman Makos before moving to Ireland and working his way into coaching.
“Coming from Canterbury, we were big into that and it’s something I’ve always used in teams I’ve been with,” he continues. “They were big on theming in Canterbury and that was something we grew up using in the academies.
“You’re looking at other sports and what they’re taking on board. The biggest thing is that it’s player-driven. I can’t get any success with it if the players don’t buy into it. I’m big on Greg Popovich in the NBA and he uses a term, ‘Me, we.’
“It’s about sacrificing the ‘me’ for the ‘we,’ and the greater good. That’s something we’ve been using with this group.”
Ireland celebrate a try against Wales. Source: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO
On the pitch, Ireland are more comfortable with the style Griggs backs them to play – expansive, high-tempo and with players having the freedom to make decisions for themselves.
“We’re a lot more confident in how we want to play,” says Griffin. “That’s the joys of having the camps in November and January, it wasn’t just going over your set-plays and that, it was literally fine-tuning.”
The speed of recycling at the rucks was an issue for Ireland in November and something they’ve been working hard to rectify – even if there is still progress to make.
“You could see that against Wales last weekend, us flooding the breakdown because you want that quick ball but it’s also about being clinical so you’re resourcing with the right amount of players, not overcommitting,” explains Griffin.
Ireland had just two wins in their five games in last year’s championship and finished third overall, but with Griggs’ approach firmly embedded, there is some belief ahead of a hugely demanding opener against England in two weekends’ time at Donnybrook.
“England are a very physical side and they’re talented, they’ll play from anywhere on the pitch,” says Griffin. “We’re learning in terms of our game management, game plan, developing the defence and improving those things so we can all inter-link together.
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“It doesn’t matter what number is on your back, everyone can be a playmaker. It’s exciting and I’m looking forward to kicking it off. Energia Park at home with that crowd, it gives you that little bit extra.”
Just over a week out from the 2019 Six Nations openers, Murray Kinsella and Gavan Casey are joined by Bernard Jackman to look at Ireland’s bid for another Grand Slam:
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