As the playing field levels out this weekend, the pressure mounts on Ireland in their quest for a valuable first win at this year’s Six Nations.
Back-to-back defeats to professional sides Wales and France are forgivable for a side in turmoil, but a home game against Italy’s amateurs raises some expectations.
Over 5,000 supporters will be at Musgrave Park tomorrow night and the paying crowd will be thrilled at the prospect of seeing Beibhinn Parsons from the start for the first time in the campaign.
The Cork venue will host a women’s test for the first time and Ireland would love nothing more than to celebrate this historic occasion with a big win.
If they don’t, then Greg McWilliams’ side will actually be staring at the barrel of a potential wooden spoon.
That may sound dramatic, but bear in mind that some key players will be unavailable for the remaining two games against England and Scotland due to a Sevens tournament in Canada.
McWilliams did his best to downplay the importance of this clash but deep down the Ireland boss knows it is a very important game for the long-term development of his young and inexperienced side.
Most of the public understand the need for patience, yet Ireland have lost just two of their 18 previous meetings with Italy.
“I think for any good team, the pressure comes from you and your own individual performance,” McWilliams said.
“We have to focus on what we’re trying to get better at.
“The better we progress, the more pressure and pressure to win from the outside will come at us. So I think we need to focus on what we’re trying to do better and perform really well in terms of our core tenets.
“We talk about standard situations, territory, ball care. If we get these things right, or at least better, this week, I think you’re going to see an exciting game.
“We want to get this win, but we’re not focused on the win. That’s pretty much irrelevant, we’re focusing on all the little things that make it possible.”
Although Italy will pose a major threat, they are not as strong as Wales or France and so Ireland must try to impose their game plan by setting an early marker.
Set pieces are crucial in this regard and after struggling in the scrum in Toulouse last weekend, Italy will be looking to take on their hosts.
With limited time to rectify the issues, Ireland will be looking to get better height at the scrum while captain Nichola Fryday, as main line caller, is responsible for facilitating the call to avoid Neve Jones’ throw and lineout lifts are more in sync.
If the pack can set the platform, Ireland have already shown their backs can do a lot of damage, especially now that Parsons is back on the wing.
McWilliams have licensed their players to play ground-breaking rugby but they need to find a better balance between running the ball from deep and playing territory.
Kathryn Dane will add some experience at the scrum half as Nicole Cronin looks to bring more control than she was able to against France’s wild line speed. This time it’s up to Ireland to bring that aggressive approach to defence.
The return of Parsons brings new momentum to Ireland’s attack and with the home crowd hoping the Ballinasloe flyer will make it shine, she too must live up to those expectations.
Coming off the bench last weekend, Parsons looked a little eager to impress, which is understandable for the 20-year-old, who would have been disappointed to have been on the bench for the first two rounds.
However, the stage is now set for Parsons to make his mark.
“See, Bey obviously adds an extra spark, she’s dynamic, we know that,” McWilliams said.
“Amee-Leigh Murphy Crowe is one hell of a winger. Eimear Considine is a damn good winger who loses this week where Aoife Doyle comes in.
“They just hope that everyone who plays far out adds spark and energy, gets the crowd going, gets the team going. Everyone wants to see Ireland play good rugby and tries scored. I know they are the people who can hopefully do that for us.”
Joining Dane and Parsons is Christy Haney, with Hannah O’Connor getting the nod in 8th and 19-year-old back row Aoife Wafer hoping to make her international debut off the bench.
This is the last time we will see many of these players on the Six Nations stage until next year. Signing off with a win would do wonders to reassure everyone that Ireland are on the right track.
https://www.independent.ie/sport/rugby/beibhinn-parsons-can-inspire-irelands-key-italian-job-41536095.html Beibhinn Parsons may inspire Ireland’s most important Italian job