THE TOURNAMENT KICKED off last weekend but, due to its new-look two-pools-of-three format, Ireland have had to wait a 24th week before they return to competitive action in a feverishly anticipated Guinness Women’s Six Nations start of their own.
And the two opening fixtures put things in stark perspective: fully professional England and semi-pro France racked up over a hundred points between them at home to ‘amateur’ Scotland and Wales respectively, the latter of whom failed to register a point in Vannes.
The challenge facing Ireland has never been more daunting on paper and yet Adam Griggs’ side have, for all intents and purposes, prepared for this tournament as professional athletes themselves, enjoying — or indeed enduring — no fewer than 20 training camps since October in advance of this year’s postponed competition.
Lock Aoife McDermott said earlier this week, “I think we’re in one of the best places we’ve ever been and I think we can go out and cause upsets in this tournament,” while scrum-half Kathryn Dane added:
A victory in Wales this Saturday (17:00, RTÉ) would only bolster the belief in Adam Griggs’ ranks and, in reality, it’s victories over Wales, Scotland and Italy which need to become Ireland’s bread and butter in the short term; not only as a springboard from which they can try to bridge the gap to the top two, but so that they can routinely qualify for the top tier of the new WXV tournament from 2023 which will paramount to their growth.
Murray Kinsella explored as much on this week’s Rugby Weekly podcast with fellow analyst Bernard Jackman and host Gavan Casey, telling listeners that for Ireland to beat England or France in the next couple of years it would be “a massive upset in the short term, and because those programmes — professional in England and semi-pro in France — probably accelerate things (the gap) even more.
“And the Irish players are unbelievably professional and have been for a long time in their approach, in their training,” Kinsella continued.
“And professionalism here, clearly, is a long way away; David Nucifora said as much recently that it’s not a priority for them (the IRFU). The priority is getting the structures and the pathway and the pipeline right to create a little bit more depth before that point.
“So, absolutely, in the next few years, without wanting to sound unambitious on their behalf, Ireland will have to target being that third-placed nation in the Six Nations — all the more so because that’s what qualifies you into the top tier of the WXV competition from 2023 onwards — and absolutely look for scalps.
“You’re never going to go play for Ireland against England, France or against anyone thinking, ‘It’s okay for us to lose, here.’ So, they’ll feel this weekend, if they can get a bounce with a good performance, get back to that progress they were making, then they’ve got France at home and that’s an advantage in terms of the travel et cetera.