We’re not going to suggest for a moment that new coach Greg McWilliams dived into Eddie Jones’ playbook for a few diversionary tactics ahead of tonight’s Six Nations women’s game against Italy in Cork. But we admit that the cynic in us saw a “Justice for Beibh” motif hoisted on the flagpole. Or “Bae” to give her the nickname used by McWilliams. When you’re faced with a solid week and are talking about a less-than-solid set piece, then it’s a relief to be able to defend a pick in an area of strength – attacking capacity across the board.
first the set piece. Scrum trainer Rob Sweeney was very optimistic about the gains that could be made by tweaking some of the nuts and bolts that were fired like confetti in Toulouse last weekend. Are the Ireland forwards a good group to work with? Stellar, apparently. They are clearly striving to get better which improves the environment for the coaches and they are insanely eager to learn. Great.
Well, here’s an inconvenient truth that’s not unrelated to the dilemma facing our men in green: If you don’t have a herd of beasts to hustle you against the world’s top handful of nations, you will pushed up or down or backwards. Maybe all three. And if men’s football here – a huge undertaking compared to women’s rugby – can’t find these powerhouses, what chance do women have?
This dilemma is unlikely to be rammed home by an England-pulverized Italian striker. Which doesn’t mean that a respite is guaranteed. Ireland’s crush when they played Italy in Parma last September – the scene of the devastation following defeats by Spain and Scotland – was dodgy, but that shouldn’t be scary.
If the scrum goes wrong there are some things you can fix on the hoof, although this depends on those on the field having the experience to recognize and deal with what’s being thrown at them.
Then there are other holes that can be plugged at half-time when the coaches open up the laptop and present some images that can be changed. However, when you’re being milled by technically better and stronger opponents, your only recourse is a referee who wouldn’t distinguish a dominant scrum from a flock of geese and decides to turn things around. It happens sometimes.
Second, the choice problem. With Parsons, Lucy Mulhall and Amee-Leigh Murphy, Crowe Ireland has three high-level athletes. McWilliams chose Mulhall and Murphy Crowe on either side of Eimear Considine, one of his better footballers who is struggling for form, in the first two rounds. Today they will form a strong running back three – although the footballing side of the equation is still unclear.
When asked last week why Parsons wasn’t in the starting XI against France, the manager said he didn’t want it to appear as if whoever she came on as a substitute was to blame, which would be the case if she was the only change would be. We wonder how Considine is feeling now because while she’s not the only change behind the scramble to France – Kathryn Dane’s superior passing puts her ahead of Aoibheann Reilly – she’s eliminated on Matchday 23. Seven Stars Gone Soon, McWilliams will back on deck, all happily rickety.
These are the challenges of managing in an environment where there is no depth. And that cannot be changed so quickly.
Ireland vs Italy
Today, RTÉ2, 5.0
https://www.independent.ie/sport/rugby/six-nations/italians-unlikely-to-test-lack-of-irish-strength-in-depth-41538466.html The Italians are unlikely to test Ireland’s lack of strength extensively