Ireland back-row Hannah O’Connor has admitted being a part of their first summer tour is a ‘pinch me’ moment, and labelled the introduction of full-time contracts as ”a step in the right direction”.
Greg McWilliams’ side are in Japan for a three-week tour, and face the Cherry Blossoms on Saturday in the first of two Tests.
The historic tour is the latest in a series of positive developments for the women’s side, after the introduction of full-time contracts for the 15s, and the appointment of Gillian McDarby as the IRFU’s first Head of Women’s Performance and Pathways.
Kildare native O’Connor spoke of her delight at the recent progress the women’s game is making.
“It’s definitely a ‘pinch me’ moment,” she said, ahead of Ireland’s first Test in Shizuoka. “A lot of us had that on the plane over. We couldn’t believe we were actually going to Japan to represent our country. It’s the best feeling in the world, to train day in, day out as a high-performance athlete.
“It’s massive for women’s rugby. It’s something we’ve wanted for a long time, so to see it coming through is fantastic. You can go out on the pitch, have your two sessions and come back knowing you can replicate it the next day. It can only go up from here.”
Japan are preparing for October’s World Cup in New Zealand, and while Ireland missed out on qualifying, they’ll be hoping to make it back-to-back wins after their victory last November.
“We know what we’re up against,” the Leinster back-row added. “They’re a very good team. In the last few weeks they’ve played South Africa twice as well as Australia and Fiji. We’re under no illusions of the task at hand. It will be a fantastic challenge and one we’re looking forward to.”