Saturday 26 May 2018

Dawn of new era as Griggs plots Irish women's route to top

Ireland women's coach Adam Griggs hopes the IRFU will make his position a full-time job again Photo: INPHO/Dan Sheridan
Ireland women's coach Adam Griggs hopes the IRFU will make his position a full-time job again Photo: INPHO/Dan Sheridan
Cian Tracey

Cian Tracey

A new head coach, a new captain and nine uncapped players in the Six Nations squad - this feels like the beginning of a new era for Irish women's rugby.

The fallout from the disastrous home World Cup has continued into this year, with certain players making themselves unavailable for selection, while others have hung up their boots.

Niamh Briggs Photo: Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile
Niamh Briggs Photo: Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile

It needed a fresh impetus, and a revamped coaching ticket - headed up by Adam Griggs, who is familiar with the women's landscape - has been welcomed by all parties.

The loss of the likes of Jenny Murphy, Marie-Louise Reilly and Ailis Egan leaves a considerable void, but Griggs is happy with how his new-look squad is shaping up.

Stalwarts like Niamh Briggs, Claire Molloy and Paula Fitzpatrick are still around to lend their experience to the younger brigade, which is being led by captain Ciara Griffin.

The furore surrounding the IRFU's decision to offer the new head coach position on a part-time basis left several players and ex-players disillusioned with the direction the women's game is going, but Griggs has approached it with a different mindset.

"I'm happy enough with it (job)," he tells the Irish Independent.

"In terms of what the role is, it's the same for myself as a coach and the players, we don't take it as part-time.

Focused

"We're very much focused on it being full-time and when the girls are in camp, they're full professionals. In saying that, I can see where the IRFU are coming from.

"They have got an ongoing review of the whole women's game at the moment. I suppose they want to have some caution and see what comes of that. Hopefully we get an outcome that makes them need a full-time role."

Griggs's position is included in that review process and he will learn his fate following the Six Nations campaign, which on paper at least, looks like it could be testing.

Just like they were last year, certain players will again be unavailable due to sevens commitments but Griggs doesn't envisage that being a problem as a clear plan is already in place.

"Obviously there are 38 players in that squad and that includes sevens girls," the 32-year-old says. "I have a good relationship with Anthony (Eddy, director of women's rugby), we have spoken on the players.

"I know who can come and who can go. We looked at it more on a positional basis and what we need to fill.

"If there are girls in the sevens set-up currently who we feel we can use then we will, but in terms of the girls who are there with the 15s, it's very settled so we won't be trying to reach out to that, just for the sake of it."

Griggs knows the damage done to the squad by an early exit at their home World Cup will take time to repair.

The Kiwi has been in charge of Leinster for the last two years during which time he got a proper gauge of where the strengths and weaknesses of the women's game lie.

Now he is tasked with changing the fortunes of the national squad that despite all the changes, still has potential. "Obviously the World Cup was disappointing for the players who were involved. It didn't go to plan," Griggs concedes.

"Personally, my take on it is that they're coming in now even more motivated and driven to do well in the Six Nations. It's exciting for them to be able to leave that behind them and move forward.

"It has been parked. I came in and said that it was a fresh start for myself so it's just the same for players. I know the players who were involved have addressed it.

"Any time a player makes themselves unavailable, it's a show of how much the World Cup took out of those players.

"When I came in and started coaching with the Leinster women two years ago, it also gave me a base of what players are around. I haven't come into this job not knowing who is there and I haven't had to lean on Anthony Eddy or the IRFU to give me a bit of knowledge because I have been on the ground and seen it for myself.

"When I went into the interview, I was very confident that I knew the player base that we have and I know who the young ones are coming up."

That Griggs is still playing, with Lansdowne in the AIL, should also help in his dealings with the players.

He understands the stresses involved in the daily grind and some of the players have already spoken about that being an advantage for him in what is a major step up in his career.

A 27-19 win in Wales on Sunday, in his first game in charge, was an ideal start, but tougher tasks lie ahead in the coming weeks.

"To a certain extent, there is a rebuilding phase," Griggs explains. "When you bring in a new coach to any organisation, it's going to take a little bit of time to understand the way I see the game and the way I think they can play the game.

"It's a different challenge to coaching the lads. They're more intrigued. They want to know a little bit more detail about why we were doing things.

"From a coach's perspective, that's actually quite good because it means they want clarity on what their role is in terms of the game-plan.

"At least when we go on to the field, they have been asking the questions of me so I'll have to give them answers which means they are good to go when they get out on the field.

Decisions

"In terms of our training and things like that, I pick players who make decisions because at the end of the day, they are the ones playing the game.

"That's the biggest thing for us at the moment, making sure that whether you've got number one on your back or number 15, if you're put in a certain situation, you're able to make the correct decision and just be durable.

"Nothing about the game of rugby goes perfectly to plan so you have to be able to adapt and adjust.

"That's the biggest thing we have been driving."

Mike Ross has also come on board as scrum coach, which is a significant coup for the women's team.

Since retiring from professional rugby, Ross has been in a player/coach role with Malahide in the AIL and his influence has already been felt. "When you have someone with a background like that, I think it shows the ladies that we are serious about it as well and want the best quality to try and help them out," Griggs maintains.

"Mike loves scrummaging. The first thing he did when he introduced himself to the squad was say, 'I'm Mike Ross and I love scrummaging'.

"That was his ice-breaker so everyone knew what he was there for.

"Even him being around the ladies, he's had that international experience and been involved in a number of Six Nations.

"They can lean on him, it's not just scrummaging. There are other parts that he can help with as well in terms of preparation. He knows lineouts - he knows the game of rugby really well."

Griggs and his Ireland side face a baptism of fire in their Six Nations opener next week as they travel to France, before having the comfort of three home games.

"We are under no illusions that the first game against France away is a tough battle," he adds.

"It is daunting but it also sets you up well for the rest of the tournament. A tough away fixture like that will put us under the kind of pressure that we can't emulate at training.

"They're a very strong side. They like to off-load and use the maul so we're going to have to be sharp on that.

"I want us to improve our overall play. That's from every game. It's about seeing us make those steps and also nailing those little details.

"We obviously want to win. We won't be shy about saying we want to win."

Irish Independent

Sport Newsletter

The best sport action straight to your inbox every morning.

Editor's Choice

Also in Sport