Monday 16 July 2018

Ireland exuding calm despite jittery start

Ciara Griffin celebrates going over the line to score Ireland’s second try during the opening group clash against Australia. Photo by Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile
Ciara Griffin celebrates going over the line to score Ireland’s second try during the opening group clash against Australia. Photo by Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile
Cian Tracey

Cian Tracey

Considering the tricky situations Ireland have found themselves in during their opening two World Cup games, the sense of calm that is exuding from the squad is quite remarkable.

Whether or not that is a front being put on for the media remains to be seen because if you were to judge the performances against Australia and Japan at face value, you would be naive to think that nerves hadn't contributed greatly to their struggles.

That said, Ireland have now twice faced down the barrel of an early exit from their home World Cup and fought back to ensure that it all comes down to Thursday's eagerly-awaited pool decider against France.

From the outside at least, the public's expectations may have understandably dampened but inside the four walls of the squad's UCD base, nothing has changed.

Before a ball was kicked at the tournament, reaching the semi-final was the minimum requirement for a team who believed that they were perfectly prepared for the World Cup.

Ciara Griffin had a bird's-eye view of the failings against Australia and her introduction from the bench had a major say in Ireland keeping their tournament alive.

The Ballymac, Co Kerry native didn't have it all her own way against Japan on Sunday but she made some vital second-half contributions.

"We're realistic," the aggressive flanker maintains.

"We had a lot of handling errors, unforced errors too, which is something we didn't want to happen. We've spoken about it, we want to rectify it, but look that's sport, things happen.

"Japan had really good line-speed, but we should have kept our depth a bit more as well. We've a lot to work on, but we won't panic."

One thing that this squad undoubtedly has is incredible unity and a never-say-die attitude that has saved their blushes on both occasions.

There is a stark realisation across the board however, that France will not be as forgiving.

After a poor Six Nations, the French have radically stepped up the intensity of their training and even took on the national side's U-19 men's team in a bid to improve their physicality.

"We're a massive collective unit, we're very close together, we're like another family," Griffin says of Ireland's bond.

"We're very good at talking to one another and helping each other out. We'll help one another with analysis, anything we can improve on. It's up to us to recover and rest now and analyse it."

Ireland edged France during their Six Nations clash in Dublin earlier this year but there is a growing fear that the French side who arrived in the capital this month are a totally different beast.

The hosts may have struggled in their opening two games but they have nothing to fear against a team that they know only too well.

Boost

"A win's a win, it's a massive boost for us, but that's the Six Nations, it's a totally different tournament," Griffin insists.

"It's up to us now to regroup, work on our accuracy, fix our mistakes and go hard at the French.

"They're very strong, they've a good pack, they're well able to ship it wide, so it's up to us to have good line-speed, and just be physical."

France may have improved since the spring but Ireland's fitness has also moved up a level.

You only have to look to how strongly they finished in the wins over Japan and Australia to see that, but it is their executing of the basic skills that needs to improve drastically if they are to play in a semi-final in Belfast.

"Fitness was one thing we marked after the Six Nations, we wanted to be fitter and stronger and that's showing - we are fitter and we are getting stronger," Griffin says.

"It mightn't be the prettiest, you can win by 10 points or 120 points, a win's a win. We'll take a lot of solace from that and focus on the positives.

"We've a lot of positives in terms of the turnaround at half-time, we showed great unity, we showed we're a team, not individuals, that will be major thing for us against the French."

On a personal level, Griffin's main focus is to ensure she keeps her place in the starting XV for the pool decider.

"I watched the World Cup at home in 2014, now to be here living the dream and playing with some of the girls I looked up to is massive," she adds.

"We want to perform, to make our country proud to make our families proud, so I'm relishing the experience but there's lots to improve on."

Irish Independent

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