Ireland head coach Greg McWilliams insists there is no pressure on his side, as they fly to Japan for a two-test series.
After missing out on qualification for October’s Rugby World Cup, McWilliams has called on his squad to express themselves against the Cherry Blossoms, who they face in Fukuroi City on August 20, and in Tokyo a week later. Ireland last faced Japan, ranked twelfth in the world, at the RDS in November 2021 with the hosts winning 15-12.
“There is no pressure on them,” said McWilliams, speaking ahead of the squad’s departure for the three-week tour.
“This squad has nothing to lose. We’re not going to the Rugby World Cup, so this is a chance to get ahead of the chasing pack and establish ourselves. We’ve seen in the past that post-Rugby World Cups, there’s been a high turnover of players and staff. For us now it’s about establishing our pillars. Wait until you see these girls play. The game is changing, and we have athletes ready to rip it up."
Forwards Clara Nielson, Jo Brown and Taryn Schutzler, and backs Aoife Dalton, Dannah O’Brien, Emma Tilly, Kayla Waldron and Leah Tarpey have each received their first call-ups to the 29 player squad, after impressing in recent international training camps.
“They are here because they are talented and have lots to offer,” McWilliams added.
“We have experience too, and players who are 21 and 22 who seem like veterans at this stage. It’s a really exciting squad. We had a vision. We sat down with the senior leadership, as to how we want to play and represent the country. We’re striving every day to get there. This is a chance to test ourselves.”
The Japan tour comes off the back of the recent announcement of professional contracts for the women’s 15s side. Ireland were the last Six Nations side to bring in full-time contracts, which will range up to €30,000 plus match fees and other bonuses.
Gillian McDarby was also announced as IRFU’s first Head of Women’s Performance and Pathways last week, a role that was created following the independent review carried out after Ireland failed to qualify for this year’s World Cup.
“You're hoping to see growth and development, on the field and off it,” said McWilliams.
“Ed Slattery has come over from the Men’s sevens to be our SSC coach, and Roisin Murphy has come in as head physiotherapist. The importance of that from a growth point of view, it’s that it’s the first time we’ve ever had a full-time SSC coach and Physio with the programme. The care the players have got has always been there, but now it’s gone to that next level.”
Ireland captain Nichola Fryday also welcomed the news. “It’s been a really positive two months,” the 27-year-old added.
“The announcement of Gillian and the full-time contracts was great news. For us as players it's such a huge step. If you asked me when I first started, would I ever get that opportunity I probably would've said ‘I don't think I will’.”