W6N 2022: Ireland Team Preview
By: Jackie Finlan, The Rugby Breakdown
The annual women’s rugby Six Nations Championship begins March 26, 2022, and Ireland enters the TikTok-sponsored tournament with stakes that differ from its European counterparts.
The Irish did not qualify for the Rugby World Cup later this year, and a reckoning followed. The first iteration of the adjustments that followed will be tested against five New Zealand-bound opponents.
A thrilling Rugby World Cup qualifier unfolded in Italy in September 2021. Ireland, Italy, Scotland and Spain played a round robin, with the top team advancing directly to New Zealand in 2022, and the runner-up heading to the final qualifying event in Dubai. Two single-digit losses - 8-7 to Spain and 20-18 to Scotland - placed Ireland in third place and out of contention.
Ireland's Nichola Fryday tries to find a gap between Jade Konkel and Sarah Law during their Rugby World Cup 2021 Europe Qualifier with Scotland at Stadio Sergio Lanfranchi on 25 September, 2021 in Parma, Italy. (Photo by Alessandro Sabattini - World Rugby/World Rugby via Getty Images)
“It’s a shame that you have to take learnings like that from such a failure,” Ireland Women’s Rugby team then-coach Adam Griggs told irishrugby.ie.
“You’d really love to have gotten through those qualifiers and still take those same learnings. “I think this group of players, there’s a lot of young girls there, I genuinely think with them coming through in the next two or three seasons, we’re going to see some really good foundations of what we’ve laid.”
Ireland did rebound, winning its Autumn Internationals against the USA (20-10) and Japan (15-12). Following the series, captain Ciara Griffin and fellow veteran forwards Lindsay Peat and Claire Molloy retired from international play, but they were still active in the public callout that capped the year.
In December, nearly 60 current and former Ireland women’s rugby players signed a letter addressed to the Minister of Sport, describing the Ireland Rugby Football Union’s substandard treatment of the women’s game. After a public fallout, an independent review, and subsequent negotiations, the IRFU agreed to terms - including 30 recommendations from the players and an extra £1 million investment - for improvements and the rebuild of trust.
"Together, the changes that emerge as a result of all of this work, alongside renewed commitment in women’s rugby right from the top of the IRFU, means we can look to the future with greater confidence than ever before." [excerpt from the player representatives’ statement]
Ireland's Beibhinn Parsons tries to shrug off the tackle of Lisa Thomson in their Rugby World Cup 2021 Europe Qualifier match with Scotland at Stadio Sergio Lanfranchi on 25 September, 2021 in Parma, Italy. (Photo by Alessandro Sabattini - World Rugby/World Rugby via Getty Images)
Greg McWilliams is the new head coach, and he’s brought on former Ireland captain Niahm Briggs (62 caps, two Six Nations championship titles) as assistant coach. They oversaw last week’s three-day camp, which brought 38 players to the IRFU High Performance Centre for a first run-around.
There were some notable absences - including hooker Cliodhna Moloney, centre Sene Naoupu and back-row Anna Caplice - that have drawn interest. McWilliams noted some missing talent but also that omissions weren’t reflective of players’ roles in the IRFU comeuppance.
There are nine uncapped players in the Women’s Six Nations squad: Christy Haney, Amanda McQuade, Emma Murphy and Aoife Wafer in the forwards; and Natasja Behan, Vicky Irwin, Aoibheann Reilly and Molly Scuffil-McCabe in the backs. All but Irwin (Sale Sharks / IQ Rugby) represent Blackrock College or Railway Union, the finalists in the 2022 AIL championship. Also note that only four players are competing in the Allianz Premier 15s.
McWilliams can also vet so many new players because there isn’t the pressure of the Rugby World Cup this fall. There is, however, the new international WXV series in 2023, and a top-three finish in the Women’s Six Nations would put Ireland in the most competitive tier - a great breeding ground for up-and-coming internationals.
For that to happen, Ireland would need to beat Wales (March 26), Italy (April 10) and Scotland (April 30) - all home games (and here’s how you watch them). These are achievable goals, and would make quite the home stand for a hopefully new phase of Ireland Women’s Rugby. Bring on the women’s rugby Six Nations.
Amanda McQuade (Railway Union RFC/Ulster)*
Chloe Pearse (UL Bohemian RFC/Munster)(2)
Linda Djougang (ASM Romagnat Rugby/Leinster)(17)
Christy Haney (Blackrock College RFC/Leinster)*
Claire Boles (Railway Union RFC/Ulster)(3)
Emma Hooban (Blackrock College RFC/Leinster)(8)
Neve Jones (Gloucester-Hartpury/Ulster)(6)
Nichola Fryday (Exeter Chiefs/Connacht)(22)
Sam Monaghan (Wasps/IQ Rugby)(5)
Aoife McDermott (Railway Union RFC/Leinster)(18)
Anna McGann (Railway Union RFC/Ulster)*
Grace Moore (Railway Union RFC/IQ Rugby)(1)
Dorothy Wall (Blackrock College RFC/Munster)(10)
Aoife Wafer (Blackrock College RFC/Leinster)*
Brittany Hogan (Old Belvedere RFC/Ulster)(7)
Emma Murphy (Railway Union RFC/Leinster)*
Edel McMahon (Wasps/IQ Rugby)(14)
Maeve Óg O’Leary (Blackrock College RFC/Munster)(1)
Hannah O’Connor (Blackrock College RFC/Leinster)(7)
Aoibheann Reilly (Blackrock College RFC/Connacht)*
Kathryn Dane (Old Belvedere RFC/Ulster)(18)
Ailsa Hughes (Railway Union RFC/Leinster)(13)
Nicole Cronin (UL Bohemian RFC/Munster)(16)
Nikki Caughey (Railway Union RFC/Leinster)(13)
Enya Breen (UL Bohemian RFC/Munster)(9)
Stacey Flood (Railway Union RFC/Leinster)(7)
Michelle Claffey (Blackrock College RFC/Leinster)(12)
Eve Higgins (Railway Union RFC/Leinster)(6)
Lucy Mulhall (Wicklow RFC/Leinster)(1)
Beibhinn Parsons (Blackrock College RFC/Connacht)(15)
Amee-Leigh Murphy Crowe (Railway Union RFC/Munster)(6)
Aoife Doyle (Railway Union RFC/Munster)(7)
Natasja Behan (Blackrock College RFC/Leinster)*
Lauren Delany (Sale Sharks/IQ Rugby)(18)
Eimear Considine (UL Bohemian RFC/Munster)(23)
Molly Scuffil-McCabe (Railway Union RFC/Leinster)* - try scorer in AIL final (24-18 to Railway)
Vicky Irwin (Sale Sharks/IQ Rugby)*
Ireland's Stacey Flood passes the ball as Scotland's Hannah Smith looks on during their Rugby World Cup 2021 Europe Qualifier match at Stadio Sergio Lanfranchi on 25 September, 2021 in Parma, Italy. (Photo by Alessandro Sabattini - World Rugby/World Rugby via Getty Images)
Rugby World Cup 2021 Europe Qualifier
September In Italy (Parma).
Four teams, round robin. Winner goes to RWC, runner-up to final repechage. Heading into the 3rd round, everyone had 5 standings points, going 1-1:
Italy 38-13 Scotland
Spain 8-7 Ireland
Ireland 15-7 Italy
Scotland 27-22 Spain
Italy 34-10 Spain
IRELAND TEAM VS. SCOTLAND IN RWC Q LOSS IRELAND WOMEN:
Eimear Considine (UL Bohemians/Munster); Amee-Leigh Murphy Crowe (Railway Union/Munster), Eve Higgins (Railway Union/Leinster), Sene Naoupu (Old Belvedere/Leinster), Beibhinn Parsons (Ballinasloe/Blackrock College/Connacht); Stacey Flood (Railway Union/Leinster), Kathryn Dane (Old Belvedere/Ulster); Laura Feely (Blackrock College/Connacht), Cliodhna Moloney (Wasps/IQ Rugby), Linda Djougang (Old Belvedere/Leinster), Nichola Fryday (Blackrock College/Connacht), Sam Monaghan (Wasps/IQ Rugby), Dorothy Wall (Blackrock College/Munster), Edel McMahon (Wasps/IQ Rugby), Ciara Griffin (UL Bohemians/Munster) (capt). Replacements used: Lauren Delany (Sale Sharks/IQ Rugby) for Considine (37 mins-half-time), Lindsay Peat (Railway Union/Leinster) for Feely (half-time), Claire Molloy (Wasps/IQ Rugby) for McMahon (52), Emily Lane (Blackrock College/Munster) for Dane (63), Brittany Hogan (DCU/Old Belvedere/Ulster) for Monaghan (66). Not used: Neve Jones (Malone/Ulster), Leah Lyons (Sale Sharks/IQ Rugby), Lucy Mulhall (Rathdrum/Leinster).
Italy's impressive 34-10 bonus point victory over Spain sends them through as automatic qualifiers for the World Cup, as Ireland could not match their maximum haul. Adam Griggs' charges finished third in the round-robin series, their hopes of playing on the biggest stage in New Zealand next year dashed by some nightmare moments.