| 18.9°C Dublin

Pressure on for Adam Griggs ahead of do-or-die week for Irish women's rugby team

Ireland need to prove themselves in ultra-tight World Cup race

Close

Criticism had rained down on Ireland head coach Adam Griggs during this qualifying campaign. Photo: Sportsfile

Criticism had rained down on Ireland head coach Adam Griggs during this qualifying campaign. Photo: Sportsfile

Ireland players during the warm up before the Rugby World Cup 2022 Europe Qualifying Tournament match between Italy and Ireland at Stadio Sergio Lanfranchi in Parma, Italy. Photo by Roberto Bregani/Sportsfile

Ireland players during the warm up before the Rugby World Cup 2022 Europe Qualifying Tournament match between Italy and Ireland at Stadio Sergio Lanfranchi in Parma, Italy. Photo by Roberto Bregani/Sportsfile

/

Criticism had rained down on Ireland head coach Adam Griggs during this qualifying campaign. Photo: Sportsfile

Two assumptions trail Ireland as their World Cup hopes continue to teeter on the brink of either exultation of extinction in Parma this month.

One holds that the quartet of outfits scrambling for qualification are mired at a mediocre level far below that of the world’s leading sides.

The other is that Ireland are now best-placed to establish their eminence amongst them when the final set of round-robin games takes place this weekend.

For now, Adam Griggs’ side only need to prove the latter; afterwards, they will have plenty of time to reflect on their doubtful quest to re-establish their erstwhile status in the global game.

That they are still squabbling merely to gain access in a World Cup when they entertained the prospect of winning it on home soil just four years ago represents a remarkable slump in fortunes.

With all four teams locked on five points ahead of the final round of matches, it would take a brave punter to accurately predict the final standings.

Ireland, whose reputation demands that they finish in first place and claim the sole automatic qualification spot, could just as easily finish last, such has been the wildly inconsistent nature of their play.

It seems almost wistful to recall a decade when an Irish team could claim a Grand Slam in a run that included two titles, as well as becoming the first international side from this island to defeat the All Blacks.

Rugby Newsletter

Subscribe to 'The Collision' for a weekly update from Rugby Correspondent Ruaidhri O'Connor and the best writing from our expert team Issued every Friday morning

This field is required

It was rather poignant then that the last playing link to that trail-blazing side, Dr Claire Molloy, was dramatically re-introduced to the fold for last weekend’s must-win encounter against Italy.

That Ireland did succeed for the 18th time in 20 attempts against the Azzurri owed relatively little to her late impact from the bench, but her mere presence was indicative of a renewed sense of calm and order after the implosion against Spain.

Of course, her reinstatement prompted a revisiting of the reasons why she had been so ignominiously dumped from the squad before by Griggs. As he averred pointedly in the post-match debrief, “At times, people have to trust that the coaches have a plan.”

Criticism had rained down on his shoulders during a week when his entire sport was also under constant shelling from internal and external forces; it is no understatement to say that failure here would have cost him his job.

But he shoulders an excessive burden, too. It should not fall upon him, for example, to assume culpability for a lineout that has for successive weeks suffered crippling systems failure.

And the surfeit of simple handling errors, even if they might reflect on a broader issue of curtailed skills development in Ireland, have badly hampered the team’s attempt to garner any cohesion.

It should be easier to sort the set-piece – even the scrum faltered once more on Sunday before a subsequent rally.

“Our scrum was hugely improved and we got some really good front foot ball off that, but absolutely we’ve got to be smarter at calling the lineouts, and you find a lot of those lineouts that we did end up losing we were going up against their main jumpers,” says Griggs.

“In a lineout they’re going to give you space somewhere, whether it’s at the front or the back, and you’ve got to be clever to see that space and call it so you can put the ball there, and I think when we did get the lineout right the call was spot on, the lifts were good and the throw was good.”

Clearly, ditching the previous week’s caller Aoife McDermott offered no palpable improvement out of touch and the management have huge calls to make here. Should they construct a competent platform, Ireland are a superior force to any rivals in Parma; and in Beibhinn Parsons a truly world-class talent who can destroy a defence single-handedly.

Points difference is now all that separates the sides with Italy (+17) closely followed by Ireland (+7), Spain (-4) and Scotland (-20). That Ireland denied the Italians a bonus point could be crucial when the final accounts are compiled, especially if the teams finish level in the table at the end of the final games, the result between those team counts first, then points difference, then tries.

It will also be in Ireland’s favour that, oddly, the final round of games are not simultaneous so they will already know the result when the Spanish face off against the Italians.

Ireland need to beat Scotland, as they regularly do in Six Nations fare, to guarantee a top two placing, while they will win the group should their margin of victory trump the winners of the other match.

A Spain win with five match points is the only result that can guarantee they win the group regardless of what Ireland or Scotland do.

Only the winners achieve an automatic berth in New Zealand next year but the runners-up face a repechage against a global qualifier which is effectively another golden ticket in itself, as none of Samoa, Colombia or an Asian qualifier are credible opposition.

The Scots will be buoyed by doing what the Irish could not against the Spanish; and with a try-scoring bonus point to boot, as captain Rachel Malcom eyed an even bigger scalp.

“It will take discipline, basics, and a lot of heart again,” she said. “It will take everyone in the squad nailing it from minute one to minute 80.”

Given that none of the sides in Parma have managed to accomplish this in their previous 160 minutes, there may be more spills and thrills this weekend as Ireland seek to justify their pretensions to mix with the sport’s elite.

Fixtures:

Saturday
Italy v Spain (kick-off 2pm BST / 3pm local time)
Ireland v Scotland (kick-off 5pm BST / 6pm local time)


Most Watched





Privacy