‘She has this rawness to her… Imagine where she could get to in even four or five years’

‘She has this rawness to her… Imagine where she could get to in even four or five years’

WALES MIGHT NOT be the toughest opposition that Ireland will face in this year’s revamped Women’s Six Nations but as a first assignment, they can be content with the mark on their report card.

Brian O’Driscoll has been impressed by what he has seen in the Ireland team so far in the Six Nations.

That’s how Brian O’Driscoll reflects on their Six Nations opener last weekend. Box ticked, bonus-point win secured, march on to a tougher contest against France this Saturday [kick-off, 2.15pm Energia Park].

Ireland went into last week’s game with no competitive action in the legs for the last six months. And even then, that game — a 21-7 win over Italy in October — was a Test match in isolation for Adam Griggs’ side.

It was supposed to be Ireland’s penultimate Six Nations outing, but the Covid-19 pandemic prevented them from completing the campaign against France.

The subsequent shutdown left Ireland with only training camps to sustain them until their next competitive outing, and they churned out 20 of them before facing Wales.

“I think they’ll be very pleased with their performance,” O’Driscoll tells The42 while sharing his thoughts on the game.

“Wales mightn’t be the opposition that they’re going to come up against next from a standard point of view, but to have your first run out since October, I thought they looked incredibly fit.

“I think the body shape of some of the players has really improved. I think some of the new positional switches, some of the Sevens girls coming in had a real impact. It looks like they’ve got a nice blend of experience and some youth coming through.

“If you’re working on the basis of never having seen women’s rugby before, I thought it was a very good performance and a good bar to have set themselves now.”

That six-month break since their last match naturally left some rustiness in Ireland’s game, which came to the surface in the second half of their 45-0 win. 

“It wasn’t perfect,” says O’Driscoll about the fine-tuning on Ireland’s plate before welcoming France to Donnybrook this Saturday.

“I think it’s a dream situation where you have a convincing win but still, you have so much still to potentially improve on. I think there were 14 or 15 handling errors.

“So you take all of the good stuff and you take the improvement to see how much better we can be.”

The physical conditioning of the players, as referenced by O’Driscoll above, has received plenty of praise recently which is a testament to the work completed by their S&C coach, Orlaith Curran.

O’Driscoll points to a few individual displays to illustrate the power and strength in the team. Hannah Tyrrell, who has been growing into the 10 role, had another solid performance last weekend and has “lovely variety to her game,” according to the 2009 Grand Slam winner.

Ireland’s Beibhinn Parsons on the ball against Wales. Source: Robbie Stephenson/INPHO

Centre Eve Higgins gets a nod too, along with the impressive youngsters, Dorothy Wall and Beibhinn Parsons. 20-year-old Wall is a sturdy presence in the pack, while teen sensation Parsons regularly hunts down tries with her blistering acceleration.

“She’s 19 years of age,” O’Driscoll says of Parsons, “that is frightening where she can go to when she actually gets a bit of life maturity.

“She has this rawness to her. To have that at 19, even that level of experience already under her belt. For me, it wasn’t until about 27, 28 where you’ve got that experience, you’ve got the miles under the clock but you still have all the physical attributes.

“So imagine where she could get to in even four or five years time at 24, 25 and peak physical conditioning.

“And then the understanding and the wherewithal of the make-up of games and when to pick and choose her moments. Working on the aspects of her game that just need fine tuning. It’s hugely exciting prospect. And someone that you need to get as much ball to as you possibly can.

“She’ll learn to go looking for it rather than just waiting on her wing. You can’t have someone like her getting three, four, five touches a game. You need to get double digit touches because of the damage she can cause on any sort of mismatch. And I’m talking mismatches of her sometimes on back rowers, not front rowers.

O’Driscoll continues:

“If you’ve someone like Dorothy Wall, the before and after pictures of her [from] 18 months ago to the woman that ran out on Saturday, it was vastly different.

“She looked the real deal: big ball carrying six, really physical. There for the hard graft but someone who will always give you advantage lines.”

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Ireland’s Dorothy Wall. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

France on Saturday is the biggest test yet for Griggs’ team. A semi-professional outfit, they have already racked up a colossal win against Wales and are tipped as tournament favourites along with England.

Physicality, according to O’Driscoll, is what separates teams at international level and what makes France a daunting prospect for Ireland.

It all points to questions about introducing professionalism on a wider scale in women’s rugby. As the gap widens on teams like France and England, it’s a question of when not if the IRFU can start beginning that process.

“I think there needs to be a clear strategy and an understanding as to what direction we want to go in. But to make sure that it is sustainable as well.

“The worst thing we could do is create a semi-professional environment for a year or two and for it to fall by the wayside.

“It needs to be planned, and even if we have to wait a couple of years to get to that place, I think it’s better from a continuation point of view if we can stay the course and build on the great work that has been done by the coaching staff and by the players while they’ve all been trying to work away in the background, not playing games for their clubs and not playing internationally.”

Brian O’Driscoll was speaking at the launch of the the Guinness #NeverSettle campaign, as Guinness pledges to Never Settle until everyone belongs in rugby. Guinness has announced its plans to tackle the lack of visibility for women’s sport and specifically representation of women in rugby, pledging to Never Settle until everyone feels like they belong in the sport.

Guinness is working closely with the Rugby Unions, players and social media platforms to expand the profiles of women’s rugby and close the gap of coverage of the sport.