Sport Rugby

Sunday 21 January 2018

Coghlan insists holders Ireland will embrace extra pressure

Ireland captain Fiona Coghlan is hoping to defend the Women's Six Nations title
Ireland captain Fiona Coghlan is hoping to defend the Women's Six Nations title
Ruaidhri O'Connor

Ruaidhri O'Connor

The time has nearly come for Fiona Coghlan to hand the trophy back, but standing in the middle of all of the other Women's Six Nations captains in London yesterday just spurred her on to retain her team's title.

Last Sunday, the Grand Slam heroes staged their first on-pitch reunion in a friendly against Italy, with a few new faces added, but without one of their most experienced soldiers in the retired Joy Neville.

Just like the men's team, Ireland's women face their biannually tough schedule, with France and England away presenting daunting prospects in this pre-World Cup tournament.

Winning the Six Nations was hard, retaining it will be even more difficult, particularly given England will welcome back the Sevens players who missed last year's championship.

As champions, Ireland go into next week's opener against Scotland at Ashbourne with more attention on them than ever and with expectations rising. People who would never have known the team existed will now be paying attention to their results.

However, Philip Doyle's side are intent on enjoying their new-found fame – it is, after all, what they wanted.

"There is pressure on us and there is more attention on us as well, but that is something that we wanted and had been striving for. We'll be using it to our advantage by getting more girls involved in the game," Coghlan said.

"We want to go out and win every game and bring back the trophy. Yeah there are challenges and obstacles, but that's why this competition is so good.

"We're away to France and England and we've never beaten them away from home. That will be a huge task. Wales will be coming over thinking they can get a scalp because we robbed the game off them last year.

"So, it is hard to judge at the moment, because we haven't really played together in 10 months and we don't know what the other nations have been doing, because it is harder in the women's game to gauge it. It is going to be difficult to win it." This season will see them make a belated debut at Lansdowne Road for their meeting with the Italians, while they will also take the field at Twickenham.

Having played at the cavernous English headquarters and an empty Murrayfield on the same day as the men's games, Coghlan is hopeful they can attract a big crowd after last year's success.

"Edinburgh was a little bit lonely; there was a big crowd there at the start for the anthems, but it was a cold night and it emptied out," she recalled.

"We're hoping that there's better awareness out there of what we're doing and more of an interest so that not alone will people stay for our game, but others will come in after too, hopefully a couple of thousand anyway."

The Six Nations will double up as preparation for August's World Cup in France and, while keeping hold of their trophy is the priority, Coghlan admits that the coaching staff will have one eye on the summer.

Irish Independent

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