Head coach Adam Griggs admits there has been a lot of ‘honest analysis’ within the Ireland women’s rugby squad in advance of their pivotal World Cup qualifier against Italy at Stadio Sergio Lanfranchi in Parma tomorrow.
Following a shock opening round defeat to Spain in the same venue last Monday, Ireland simply can’t afford another slip-up as they bid to reach next year’s finals in New Zealand. Despite having just six days to prepare for a battle with the Italians in their own backyard, Griggs believes his troops have laid enough groundwork to get the job done on the field of play.
“We made sure we reviewed everything from the game and again, it was an honest analysis of where we felt we went wrong. We presented that with the squad. We said ‘we all have to hold our hands up here’. Support staff to players and make sure that we don’t let that performance happen again," Griggs explained.
“The first couple of days were difficult, but we had a really good session in the middle of the week. We felt that was a good turning point for us to leave last weekend behind and move on to this weekend.”
Griggs has made four changes to his starting line-up from the Spanish game - as well as selecting a notable stalwart amongst the replacements. Eve Higgins replaces Lucy Mulhall at outside centre, while Laura Feely, Sam Monaghan and Edel McMahon are brought into the Irish pack.
Having seen her training week disrupted for ‘personal medical reasons’, Lindsay Peat has to make do with a spot on the bench alongside veteran back-row Claire Molloy.
Regular starter Aoife McDermott misses out on the match day 23, with the freshly-capped Monaghan taking her place in the second-row. The Meath native made her debut as a replacement against Spain and Griggs feels she has what it takes to curtail her abrasive Italian counterparts.
“She’s very dynamic, she’s physical. I think that’s what we’re going to need to combat the Italians this week. We’ve probably sacrificed a little bit of height with Aoife, but for hopefully more dynamic open field play with Sam,” Griggs added.
“That’s what we would look for her to do. Play her game and what has gotten her this far. Yes it’s her first start, but at the same time, once you cross the line it’s a game of rugby. It’s 80 minutes. It’s 15 v 15. We don’t want her to try and overthink it and reinvent the wheel."
In her role as team captain, Ciara Griffin has been doing her utmost to drill home the message that Ireland are still in contention for next year’s delayed World Cup. Should Ireland get past the challenge of Italy tomorrow, it would throw the tournament wide open heading into next Saturday’s final round of fixtures.
“After that final whistle [against Spain], the first thing I did was bring the group in together and I said, ‘Don’t look sad. We didn’t perform, but we got a losing bonus. There’s a competition here to be won. We’ve two games left, it’s all to play for.’ We said that no tickets have been punched for that plane yet,” the Kerry native said.
“Everything is to play for and it’s under our control to perform the way we know we can perform. That’s a big thing for us. It’s all in our control, it’s not different things being thrown at us outside of it. It’s literally us doing the job we say we’re going to do.”
Sunday's game is live for supporters in the Republic of Ireland on the RTÉ Player, while the action will also be streamed live across rugbyworldcup.com/2021, Rugby World Cup Facebook and Twitter channels and on World Rugby’s YouTube channel.
The game kicks off at 2pm