Sunday 19 November 2017

Stapleton: We are good enough to win Six Nations and World Cup

Ireland out-half insists confidence is high despite recent run of disappointing results

Nora Stapleton has a massive vested interest in August’s World Cup that will be held in Dublin and Belfast. Photo: Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile
Nora Stapleton has a massive vested interest in August’s World Cup that will be held in Dublin and Belfast. Photo: Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile
Cian Tracey

Cian Tracey

There have been so many changes both on and off the field in recent years that it's difficult to know where exactly Ireland stand as they prepare to take the first step of a journey that has the potential to be hugely exciting.

Tom Tierney's appointment as a full-time head coach has helped but the plethora of new players that have been blooded, has left little time for the first-choice XV to click in time for Friday's Six Nations opener in Scotland.

Since she played in her first Six Nations in 2010, Nora Stapleton has been at the heart of the improvements that have been made in women's rugby in Ireland.

When she is not pulling the strings from out-half, her day job with the IRFU involves the promotion and development of the women's game.

Stapleton has a massive vested interest in August's World Cup that will be held in Dublin and Belfast.

Behind the scenes, she is working to ensure that the tournament's legacy has a ripple effect, while on the pitch, she will be one of the key figures trying to keep the trophy on these shores.

For that to happen, plenty of improvements still have to be made but despite losing all three of their autumn internationals, albeit against the top three ranked teams in the world, Stapleton believes that they are on the right path.

"Every tournament that we play in, it's to win," she insists.

"Every match we play in, it's to win. The November internationals were extremely disappointing results.

"I think we can win both (Six Nations and World Cup). Definitely. You can see that belief in the players starting to come to the forefront.

"It's about nurturing that and having the belief as a squad.

"The fitness levels, the skill levels, the game-management, all of that has been steadily increasing. Now it's about us as a squad realising our potential and knitting it all together."

Part of Tierney's remit was to cast the net far and wide and attempt to bring players from other sports into the training camps. While some have thrived in the environment, others failed to make the step up.

Stapleton herself made the transition from Gaelic football so she understands how testing it can be but such are the standards that are demanded by the coaches and senior players alike, there is no room for passengers.

A native of Fahan, Co Donegal, she is a double All-Ireland winner with the county (Junior title in 2003 and Intermediate in 2010), Stapleton's medal collection is pretty impressive, especially considering she was also part of the Grand Slam-winning team in 2013.

"It's a different type of achievement," she explains.

"I find the game of rugby much more challenging. It's so challenging mentally. It's one thing that draws me to the sport but it's the one thing that makes it so difficult as well.

"I don't think anyone could ever master rugby whereas in Gaelic football, when you put in the work, you can get to a very high standard and it enjoy it up there for a very long time. It's hard to do that with rugby."

Ireland went on to beat New Zealand in a famous World Cup victory later that year and comparisons are inevitably going to be made to that team, but this is a different crop who are determined to write their own history.

"We had experienced players back then but we just have new experienced players now," Stapleton reasons.

"There are still a lot of people on the team who would have played in a World Cup so that's really important. Then there are others who are brand new to the game but have really added something.

"The Six Nations will tell us a lot. We've been putting different things in place; there's been a lot new players brought into the setup.

"It means that we're definitely building depth within the squad but I think now it's about getting combinations right and taking it to the next level."

Time will tell whether or not those combinations have had enough time together but playing Scotland first gives Ireland an ideal opportunity to start this exciting journey on the front foot.

Irish Independent

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