IRELAND WOMEN’S RUGBY team could confound accepted sporting logic yet again on Sunday (13.00, RTE), when they aim to close the Six Nations Championship with a win over Scotland – and a trophy.
After leaders France emulated Ireland by defeating reigning world champions England in Twickenham 15 – 21, Tom Tierney’s side must defeat Scotland by a margin of more than 27 points or more to deny Les Bleus.
The task will not be easy, but nor is it insurmountable for this redoubtable group of athletes.
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When Philip Doyle’s squad finished the World Cup in fourth place, many feared the curve would drift downwards. Instead, the transition period has been made a mockery of under the tutelage of new director of rugby and coach duo:Anthony Eddy and Tom Tierney.
When The42 talked with Tierney before the beginning of the Championship, he spoke in optimistic terms about ‘the next level’ for the Niamh Briggs captained team. Yet after the loss of Fiona Coghlan, Grace Davitt and Lynne Cantwell, he seemed equally as passionate about simply recruiting greater numbers to the female game.
His players have been decidedly more adamant about their short-term goals. Before a ball was kicked Briggs summed it up with four words: “win the Six Nations.” And while the rest of the nations is still lining up to slap them on the back for beating the hitherto unbeatable Black Ferns and reaching a World Cup semi-final, centre Jenny Murphy says she is still holding on to a bitterness about the way that tournament ended.
“It’s something that was there,” Tierney said this week.
“Even losing the players, there was still a core group of senior players there. You don’t have that experience and you don’t get the confidence they have from not being in those situations. That is something that has been hugely beneficial to me, but also to the players themselves.
That confidence ensures there is no sense of giddyness ahead of a game where they will chase the Championship. Though there are a few paid semi-professionals in their ranks, for the most part this is a group who are only acting pros.
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“It’s all about the process; doing the right things, the execution of the basics and getting yourself into the game and the right areas of the field,” says Tierney, checking off a list in his head.
“If you are accurate and you do the right things at the right time, good things usually happen. But if you try to think a few phases down the line or you are worried about the scoreline; when you have got a lineout on your own goal line, that is when mistakes happen. Staying in the now is the critical factor. Then being able to control the emotions is the next step.”
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That slavish devotion to processes is designed to negate pressure. Pressure such as being the last to take the field in the Championship knowing exactly what is needed. A lot of hard work has already been done England, Wales and Italy fallen by the wayside and only a floodlight failure at home to France has blotted the copybook. From here on in, as Tierney says, it’s about keeping a steady nerve. Hot feet, cool heads.