We’re not suggesting for a moment that new coach Greg McWilliams has dipped into Eddie Jones’s playbook for some diversionary tactics ahead of today’s women’s Six Nations tie against Italy in Cork. But we’ll admit the cynic in us saw a ‘Justice For Beibh’ motif being run up the flagpole. Or ‘Bae’ to give her the moniker used by McWilliams. If you’re faced with a solid week talking about a far from solid set-piece then defending a selection decision in an area of strength – attacking capacity out wide – is a relief.
irst, the set-piece. Scrum coach Rob Sweeney has been very upbeat about the gains to be made by tweaking some of the nuts and bolts that were fired out like confetti in Toulouse last weekend. Are the Ireland forwards a good group to work with? Stellar, seemingly. Clearly they are driven to be better, which enhances the environment for the coaches, and they are mad keen to learn. Great.
Well, here is an uncomfortable truth not unrelated to the dilemma facing our menfolk in green: if you don’t have a herd of beasts to bring to the scrum battle against the handful of top nations in the world you’ll be shunted up or down or backwards. Maybe all three. And if the men’s game here – a giant corporation compared to the cottage industry that is women’s rugby – can’t find those powerhouses, what chance have the women?
This dilemma is unlikely to be rammed home by an Italy forward pack pulverized by England. Which is not to say a respite is guaranteed. Ireland’s scrum when they played Italy in Parma last September – scene of devastation with the defeats by Spain and Scotland – was dodgy, but this shouldn’t be fearful.
When the scrum goes wrong there is some stuff you can fix on the hoof, though this relies on those on the field having the experience to recognise and cope with what’s being thrown at them.
Then there are other holes that can be plugged at half-time when the coaches flip open the laptop and present some pictures that can be amended. Ultimately, however, if you’re being milled by technically better and more powerful opponents then your only escape route is a ref who wouldn’t know a dominant scrum from a gaggle of geese, and decides to level things up. It happens sometimes.
Second, the selection issue. In Parsons, Lucy Mulhall and Amee-Leigh Murphy Crowe Ireland have three athletes of a high standard. McWilliams opted for Mulhall and Murphy Crowe either side of Eimear Considine, one of his better footballers who is struggling for form, in the opening two rounds. Today they will form a strong running back three – though the football side of the equation remains unclear.
When asked last week why Parsons was not in the starting side against France the coach said he didn’t want it to look like whoever she came in for was at fault, which would be the case if that was the only change. We’re wondering how Considine feels now then, for while she is not the sole alteration behind the scrum post France – Kathryn Dane’s superior passing gets her in ahead of Aoibheann Reilly – she has tumbled out of the match-day 23. Moreover when the Sevens stars disappear soon McWilliams will need her back on deck, all happy clappy.
Such are the challenges of managing in an environment where there is no depth. And you can’t change that one in a hurry.
Ireland v Italy
Today, RTÉ2, 5.0