Friday 20 September 2019

Claffey relishing tough England test as Griggs demands major improvement

Michelle Claffey has never played at Twickenham before. Photo: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile
Michelle Claffey has never played at Twickenham before. Photo: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile
Cian Tracey

Cian Tracey

Like the majority of her team-mates, Michelle Claffey has never played at Twickenham before.

Earlier this year, Ireland's Six Nations clash against England was held in the less glamorous surrounds of Coventry, but this evening's final November Test has been given the top billing by the RFU.

The clash will take place following England's meeting with Australia and having gotten her first international start in the defeat to USA last weekend, Claffey is relishing the chance to play at England's HQ.

"It will be amazing, I've never played at Twickenham," the centre enthused.

"Hopefully there'll be a big crowd sticking around from the men's game. Obviously we have our own supporters going over as well so it's going to be an occasion. My mam and dad are coming over."

Claffey's uncle Kieran won an All-Ireland football medal in 1971 and she jokes that she doesn't get her height from the former midfielder. What Claffey may lack in stature, she makes up for in the physicality that she brings to Ireland's midfield. Last week's defeat to the USA gave Claffey a taste of what is to come and facing England will be a step up from anything she has faced in her fledging career.

Intention

The RFU recently awarded professional contracts to 28 players in the England squad, and while the IRFU do not have any intention of following suit any time soon, Claffey believes that Ireland must find a way of bridging the gap.

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"I wouldn't call it envy, I'd say it's kudos towards the English Rugby Union to take that step," she said.

"They have the ability to do it at the minute. I'm sure it'll be somewhere in the future for Ireland. We just have to focus on ourselves and our own preparation. We have the resources here in Ireland.

"Yes, we all have our jobs, but we do have the resources and the amenities in order to train as hard as we can and be as prepared as we can be then for the first of February (Six Nations). We'll up the ante as well. We're as prepared as we can be for this weekend. They'll raise it.

"We'll raise it also for February, but that's a long way away. I'm just going to look forward to Saturday first."

Claffey is currently juggling her commitment to Ireland with her nine-to-five job as a risk adviser in Ernst and Young. Head coach Adam Griggs has been impressed by what he has seen from the Offaly native and in particular the centre partnership she has struck up with today's captain Sene Naoupu.

There were, however, plenty of frustrations after last week's defeat to USA.

"Looking at the footage, we were probably outnumbered, out-muscled a little bit in terms of the breakdown and trying to create the type of ball we wanted to play off," Griggs admitted.

"And fair play to the USA, they were very good over the breakdown, certainly their back-row got on more ball than we would have liked.

"From my point of view, the disappointing thing is, we did speak about it but unfortunately we didn't quite put it on the field.

"That's definitely the challenge this week, making sure the things we talk about and the way we prepare comes through into game day for 80 minutes."

England will provide an altogether different challenge and in front of their supporters, they will be eager to lay down a marker before the Six Nations opener.

"They have got some... I wouldn't say they are new caps but there are players there who have less experience that they are obviously trying through this November," Griggs added

"It will be a different beast but we know England, they are going to be very physical. They like to use the ball and play some rugby as well. That's still going to be a challenge for us.

"I guess from our side of things, we have got nothing to lose. We have to go into this game willing to give it our all for one but really have no fear and not let that catch us out where last weekend with it being the first Test match, it probably caught us up a little bit.

"Everyone is excited about it, our management team as well.

"Obviously what Twickenham is, the esteem it's held in, in English rugby, it's exciting for us to play there. We're hoping that there'll still be a crowd from the men's game as well and there's free entry, which is really great from the RFU that they've put that on.

"It is about supporting both Ireland and England in this environment and making sure we get plenty of people in to see this game."

  • England v Ireland, Live, Sky Sports Action, 5.30

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