Niamh Briggs: Ireland won’t call on sevens stars for Six Nations bid
Ireland assistant coach Niamh Briggs has acknowledged it’s unlikely that anyone from the Ireland women’s sevens squad will feature for the team in their forthcoming Six Nations campaign.
Following a bonus-point home win over Italy in the third round of last year’s championship, several players moved back to the sevens programme in preparation for an impending leg of the World Series in Canada.
In the past, a number of internationals – such as current Dublin GAA star Hannah Tyrrell – might have missed the opening block of the Six Nations owing to sevens duties before switching back to the 15s code for the championship’s latter stages.
However, speaking in advance of Saturday’s opener against Wales at Cardiff Arms Park, Briggs said she is happy with the 32-strong squad announced for the tournament last month.
“I think we’ve rewarded girls that have played really well at club, interpro and Celtic Cup. It’s a very exciting, young group. I think it’s probably fair to say it’s starting our journey in relation to continuing on from (last summer’s tour of) Japan a little bit. Last year’s Six Nations was a tight time, whereas we got a good chunk of work done in Japan. I think for this group it’s really important they all know they’re all incredibly valued and we’re really, really happy with them.”
In addition to last November’s landmark decision by the IRFU to hand out full contracts to 29 female players across their women’s high-performance programme – 10 of those being specific to the women’s XVs programme – head coach Greg McWilliams was able to appoint John McKee to his backroom team as a senior coach on a more permanent basis.
A former head coach of Connacht and the Fiji men’s side, Briggs is thrilled that McKee is on board after first linking up with the squad on that tour of Japan.
“He’s brilliant, the girls love him and he’s just a brilliant guy. Whatever about his coaching ability, I think when you surround yourself with good people it adds to the group and that’s what we’re trying to build. We’re trying to build a culture and an environment with great people that are also great rugby players, but the rugby player comes secondary to it and John is really, really cool.”
While there was universal praise reserved for back-row Josh van der Flier when he added lineout throwing to his long list of attributes for the Ireland men in their Six Nations victory against Scotland last Sunday week, their female counterparts have a player at their disposal that does so on a regular basis.
Throughout Munster’s success in the Women’s Interprovincial Championship earlier this year, Deirbhile Nic a Bháird switched seamlessly between hooker and No 8 in the southern province’s pack. Briggs was at the helm of Munster for that triumph and she is looking forward to seeing what the Cork native can bring to the international table in the coming weeks.
“‘Derv’ is an anomaly in terms of rugby. She’s a fantastic athlete, brilliant person and I’ve played with her and coached her now for a while. Her knowledge and her want to get better . . . she’s so coachable and when you’re so coachable it means you can move between one and the other,” two-time Six Nations winner Briggs added.
“She’s come in a really rich vein of form. I hope she gets to show people outside of Ireland her superpowers because she’s a really good athlete and a really good rugby player.”