Saturday 23 September 2017

Great to win and top the table but slow starts must end now

Ireland's Alison Miller hands off Italy's Lucia Cammarano during yesterday's Women's Six Nations match in L'Aquila, Italy Photo: Roberto Bregani/Sportsfile
Ireland's Alison Miller hands off Italy's Lucia Cammarano during yesterday's Women's Six Nations match in L'Aquila, Italy Photo: Roberto Bregani/Sportsfile

Fiona Coghlan

The Ireland women's victory yesterday was the classic game of two halves. The first half was really bad; poor execution with no cohesion or momentum and they struggled to build any phases. It was a bit like the Scottish game all over again.

We hadn't lost to Italy since 1997 and they were very resilient in defence this time but 3-3 at half-time was really worrying.

Our set-pieces were still good and thankfully a stern word and some changes at half-time, particularly bringing Mary Healy in at scrum-half, made a huge difference.

It was only Ailsa Hughes' second senior cap. She got caught a few times by Italy's Sara Barattin, who is a brilliant scrum-half, and it was probably the first time she's been under that kind of pressure.

That change speeded up the game and Ireland carried the ball more and got through more phases, but Italy also tired around the 50th minute when Ireland got their first try. But people were still getting isolated. There seems to be a lot of individual play; it's like people don't know what the plan is or where they should be.

All the changes in selection over the last six games may not have helped and, during the Six Nations, the players get so little time on the pitch together between games.

They all go back to work on the Mondays and probably only had a session together on Friday and the captain's run on Saturday.

I believe they've had more weekend sessions than ever - once a month since July - but, from one game to the next, it's very difficult. They don't even have enough time together for analysis.

It probably seems harsh to be criticising them when they won 27-3, got a bonus-point win for the second game in a row and now top the table.

The way they're closing out games - like Nora Stapleton's vision in not giving up on the bonus point with that cross-field kick for Hannah Tyrrell's fourth try - that resilience is really positive.

Some of the second-half tries and broken play was good too, but they can't afford those slow starts against the likes of France or England. France beat Scotland 55-0 and England, who went fully professional in January, beat Wales 63-0 and really look to have upped it to another level, especially their forwards.

We've got France at home next so we just can't afford to start that badly against them.

Italy bring their women's international games out to the regions and I never played there in the same stadium.

L'Aquila, yesterday, was 90 minutes from Rome by car, up in the mountains. You could see how badly it was hit by an earthquake in 2009.

There was a big food festival outside the stadium which was quite full and posters for the match all around the town.

I've played Italy with fireworks at the game or the ball being brought in by helicopter.

They go all out to promote the games which makes playing there a great experience.

Irish Independent

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