Scott Bemand’s tenure as Irish Women’s Rugby Head Coach got off to the perfect start in Dubai last Autumn as his team went on to win the inaugural WXV 3 competition.
They had a clean sweep of victories on their way to the title. They kicked things off with a 109-0 win over Kazakhstan. It was Ireland’s biggest ever score and try haul (17) in a 15s Test match, male or female. Hooker Sarah Delaney getting the penultimate try on her international debut. They followed that win up with a dominant 64-3 victory over Columbia in Round 2.
Bemand’s charges had a winner-takes-all clash with Spain. The Spaniards were only two places below Ireland in the world rankings in 12th before the game. Despite trailing 13-3 at the break, Ireland dug deep in that second half to muster up a comeback. Their trusty lineout maul did the damage for tries from Grace Moore (60 minutes) and Neve Jones (72), edging their way to a 15-13 win.
Ireland Co-Captain for the tournament, Edel McMahon explained how collecting silverware was always their target.
“Winning the title was our main objective. It was the competition we found ourselves in and that’s just the way it was. Our target was to come away with three wins, to achieve that was massive for us in terms of growing our confidence and seeing out a plan especially with Scott (Bemand) and the new coaching team in place.
“We got the opportunity to figure out what was working for us as a team. We got to lay down the foundations of the training identity he wanted us to play. We’ve got the chance to build on all of that for the Six Nations in the coming months. It was a good opportunity to get familiar with players and staff”.
Bemand has plenty of young talent at his disposal. The youthfulness of the squad is one of the key positives moving forward into the future. His touring party for the WXV 3 campaign included seventeen players aged between 18-23.
Fifteen of them began the tournament with seven caps or less, and five went on to make their international debuts across the first two rounds – Eimear Corri, Megan Collis, Sarah Delaney, who only turned 19 in December, Fiona Tuite and Clara Barrett.
“It was great that these girls were able to come into an environment where we were winning. It might have been challenging for some players who made their debuts over the last few years, they weren’t maybe successful experiences which can be tough.
“These new players have had that chance to grow their confidence by coming into a team that is winning and achieving success,” explained the Exeter Chiefs Women’s backrow.
“It gave those girls a chance to make a debut that they’ll remember. It was an excellent opportunity for them.
“There is definitely a lot of room for growth and improvement ahead of the Six Nations. Even though the competition probably wasn’t what we were anticipating, to say if we were in a WXV 2 or WXV 1.
It gave us the space to express ourselves through our performances, but it also gave us the realisation as to where we need to get to as a squad for the future”
Ireland will get their 2024 Championship underway against France in Le Mans on Saturday, March 23 (kick-off 2.15pm local time), before their opening home fixture of the Six Nations sees the girls in green welcome Italy to the RDS on Sunday, March 31 (kick-off 3pm).
Having played both of their home matches at Musgrave Park last season, Ireland return to the Cork venue for round 3 as they go head-to-head with Wales on Saturday, April 13 (kick-off 4.45pm).
Ireland then travel to face England at Twickenham on Saturday, April 20 (kick-off 2.15pm), before concluding the Six Nations in Belfast against Scotland at Kingspan Stadium on Saturday, April 27 (kick-off 2.30pm).
Ireland’s long-term goal is to secure qualification for the 2025 Women’s Rugby World Cup which is set to be hosted in England. England and France have already sealed their place for the 2025 tournament, so a third-place finish on the Six Nations table could potentially prove enough to book Ireland’s place back on the biggest stage.
“England and France are already qualified so that next qualifying position is open. You’re effectively looking for a top three finish. We can definitely strive for that, it’s our route to qualification.
“That’s our aim to target those three home games that we’ve got, Italy, Wales and Scotland all coming at home,” she added.