When the RBS Women’s 6 Nations kicked off last month Ireland’s primary focus was securing qualification for Women’s Rugby World Cup 2014 in France, but with that already in the bag along with an historic Triple Crown they could be forgiven for thinking about the Grand Slam.
But captain Fiona Coghlan was quick to dismiss any such talk when Total Rugby Radio caught up with her recently, the prop only too well aware that their remaining fixtures against France and Italy will be no walk in the park in what is proving the most competitive season to date.
“We are delighted [to qualify for WRWC 2014], that was our primary goal,” admitted Coghlan.
“We knew we would have to win three games just to be sure of it. We didn’t pinpoint particular games so to have it done in the first three games is brilliant and it takes a bit of pressure off in that sense.
“That [the Grand Slam] definitely won’t be something we are speaking about. The way we have approached the competition has been game on game so the next game is France and it is about stopping them and playing our type of game.
“The French are like top three in the world, they are a sublime team.
“We are expecting them to be quite physical and their pack will be quite physical, but they have such skill and speed in their backs that we know we probably have to stop them up front first in order to not give them any quality ball for their backs to play.”
Boost for the Women's Game
The fact that Italy are also in a head-to-head battle with Wales to secure the other passage direct to WRWC 2014 – and so avoid the qualifying tournament in April – also makes them dangerous, particularly having already claimed the scalp of France in round one.
“I think it is great that things have been so open this year and obviously different countries are progressing,” continued Coghlan, a veteran of two Women’s Rugby World Cups in the green of Ireland.
“England and France have kind of been the standard bearers in Europe for the last while, but to see Italy beat France in the first weekend, it shows that anyone is capable of beating anyone on their day.
“It also means that every game is so important that you just can’t write any team off it, which is brilliant and it makes it so exciting.
“I think it will help with the growth of the Game in other countries as well. In Ireland I think it is going to be huge for the growth of our Game here and I would say likewise Italy so that in itself is a positive.”
Ireland have been knocking on the door against England and France in recent years, their last two encounters with the French being decided by one and two points, but Coghlan blend of players and game plans is the key to their success this year.
“I suppose things are starting to click,” admitted Coghlan, a PE and maths teacher by profession. “We have a great blend in the squad between youth and the older people in the squad, well the more experienced should I say!
Hungry for more
“But I have to credit the management team and the game plans they have put in place for each game seems to have worked. We were a bit rusty at the start against Wales but we have grown in each game and things are starting to click.
“Obviously we still have more to do.”
The historic 25-0 victory over England in round two has also played its part in bolstering confidence within the squad, particularly given the manner of the way they dismantled the side which has won the last seven titles, six of them with a Grand Slam.
“The English game was outstanding. We knew last year, and in the previous couple of years, we had kind of matched them for 50-60 minutes and then they pull away at the end, but this year to comprehensively win it in the manner that we did was just brilliant.
“I suppose there was still always nervousness that they could come back into the game at any point and even for the last 10 minutes they were attack after attack. I think at one stage they went through 29 phases and didn’t score, the girls just put their body on the line and after that everyone was over the moon.
“I always said if I beat England I would retire happy, but you always want more. When you win a game you always want to win the next game, so going into the Scotland game it did give us a huge confidence boost.”
That renewed confidence let to a 30-3 victory over Scotland and a first Triple Crown, something Coghlan insists they “hadn’t spoken about it” before the season began. Only time will tell if this historic season is to end with the coveted Grand Slam.
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