Wednesday 23 October 2019

First signs are good as backs shine before South African adventure


Shane Daly, scoring a try for his side against Dragons, shone for the Reds
Shane Daly, scoring a try for his side against Dragons, shone for the Reds

Niamh Briggs

While Ireland saw their World Cup hopes dented in Japan, Munster got their PRO14 season off to a convincing start and supporters will be encouraged by the manner of their victory over Dragons.

Five tries scored and none conceded, it was the perfect start and they headed off to South Africa earlier this week on a high.

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I loved how they went about their business against Dragons. For the first 20 minutes maybe everything didn't go to plan, but they stuck with it and there is a lot to be positive about.

You could see some of the things that Stephen Larkham has worked on. They looked for the offload and a push pass, which is great to see. In the last couple of seasons I felt they were missing a cutting edge in attack.

Maybe there was a predictability about Munster's attack last season, so a new set of eyes there will lift things. Near the end of the season that bit of flair to open a defence will be vital.

Unified

As a team, Munster looked well oiled and unified, but there was plenty of good individual performances too. Jack O'Donoghue, Shane Daly, Billy Holland and JJ Hanrahan all impressed and it was great to see Tyler Bleyendaal fit and starting at 12.

I still don't think Munster fans have seen the real Tyler for an extended period yet. There have been glimpses of his class, but having him at 12 allowed JJ to play closer to the gain line where he excels.

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Rory Scannell is Mr Consistency there and you'd love to see him get a real chance with Ireland. I know there's lots of talent for Joe Schmidt, but I think Rory is class. Playing at 13 rather than 12, I thought he looked sharp and it gave him the chance to show the subtleties to his game.

As I have discovered in recent years, lengthy injury lay-offs are really tough to deal with, so I was thrilled to see James Cronin return. The crowd got very excited when he came on and the lads welcomed him back too.

It's a lonely road when you're out for that length of time. People can forget how good you are and we have to remember that James was on the cusp of the Ireland squad before he picked up that injury.

Himself and Killer always pushed each other and James started a lot of the bigger games. It's a massive boost for Munster to have him back and if he gets a good run in the team it will really strengthen the front-row options for the rest of the season.

For now the immediate focus is on the Southern Kings, who were unlucky not to beat Cardiff at the weekend. I've never been to South Africa before; I'd love to have toured out there but their women's game hasn't been very strong in recent years.

It was great to see the Scotland women's team have flown out there this week this to play them. They are trying to get their women's programme up and running, which is brilliant to see.

It is an interesting Munster squad that has travelled. Last weekend Munster only carried two backs on the bench and Jack O'Sullivan wore the No 23 shirt. I know Sam Arnold and Dan Goggin picked up injuries in pre-season, while Alex Wootton is just returning to full training now and he hasn't travelled either.

With three scrum-halves and two out-halves in the 26-man squad there are only six outside backs to fill the five positions up for grabs - although Tyler and JJ could line out alongside each other again too. That means all the backs will play some part in both games. As well as Kings looking stronger in week one, the Cheetahs got a great win when they swept past a weakened Glasgow Warriors. It tells us there will be nothing easy out there for the Munster lads.

Meanwhile, I was very happy to see seven Munster girls named in the Ireland squad for the November Test. I think the squad is a true reflection of how the inter-provincials went and those that made the cut are there on merit. With my Munster hat on, I'd love to have seen Chloe Pearce get a run in that extended squad.

She has been brilliant this season but hopefully she keeps trucking away with the club she might find her way in. The likes of Dorothy Wall will feel she was close too. Her powerful running is just what Ireland need. She's very raw but she has so much potential. She'll be world class.

The next 12 months will be vital for women's rugby as Ireland has to go and qualify for the World Cup next September. As long as those girls can remain fit, they have a really good chance. The core of the team has been there and then there is a lot of young girls like Beibhin Parsons and Grace Miller coming into the squad, which has brought a freshness to things.

It's a pity that they have only one warm-up game, because nothing compares to playing Test rugby.

U-18s' interpro win was just the boost I needed after injury woe

While everyone is hooked on the Rugby World Cup at the minute, I've ended up watching it from a distance rather than being in the middle of it.

I was lined up to do some media work and some Rugby Travel Ireland work, but I was struck down with a pretty bad broken leg and couldn't travel on the advice of my surgeon. I don't really have a timeline with the injury to be honest. I broke my fibula in a couple of places and dislocated my ankle too. It'll be a long way back.

Missing out on the 2017 Women's World Cup was really hard, but this injury is up there with it. I know I'm very near the end of my career, be it this season or next season, but when you know you're finishing you want to be involved in every session.

But while I was down in the dumps after surgery, I was really lifted by the Munster U-18s team, which I've been coaching. They are a brilliant bunch of girls and I was so happy to see them winning the interpro title.

Fiona Hayes, Mairéad Kelly and myself all played club and international rugby together so going in coaching together was huge for all of us. I learned so much from the two of them and from the girls as well. Coming at a time that I was so gutted with the injury, their win was a massive thing and it dragged me back from the disappointment.

It's hard to match playing, but watching them from the sidelines gave me a real high. Watching them win it was incredible.

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