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Anna Caplice: 'To see Edel McMahon and Sam Monaghan lift the trophy, that's huge for Ireland'

By Anna Caplice
DUBAI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES - OCTOBER 28: Edel McMahon and Sam Monaghan of Ireland lift the WXV trophy following the WXV 3 2023 match between Ireland and Spain at The Sevens Stadium on October 28, 2023 in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. (Photo by Christopher Pike - World Rugby/World Rugby via Getty Images)

I had a good feeling from Ireland when I sat down to watch the match. Apart from that blunder which Spain capitalised on very quickly and really well, Claudia Peña Hidalgo was a huge threat for Spain, you can’t give them opportunities like that. They punished Ireland as quickly as they could. I did feel like Ireland would be able to pull it back. I felt like they looked in control, especially in the second half.

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It’s really good for Ireland, after the two opening games, two try fests that they really enjoyed and didn’t have to grind anything out, to have to stay in the game for 80 minutes and grind out that win until the very last minute.

This is good for that team, especially to put to rest demons of the past and having lost to Spain in the RWC2021 qualifier, I was proud of them. Lifting a bit of silverware, that’s not really possible outside of the Six Nations and World Cups because any of the other tests are just test series, not a competition. To see Edel [McMahon] and Sam [Monaghan] the two captains lift a trophy, that’s huge for Ireland and I was happy for them.

If I was involved I would be absolutely gunning to get back into camp. We used to do camp when we’d finished a week at work and we’d go in at a weekend. Some of these players, there won’t even be a camp, they’ll go straight back into their full-time job which is rugby now. That’s incredible, we’ve never had that before, especially off the back of a victory like this where you can bottle up that feeling of winning.

Bring that feeling to camp and have it by your side, but they have to just ramp it up 100 times when they get back. No patting on the back, no ‘Oh aren’t we great for winning WXV 3’. They don’t want to be in WXV 3, they want to be in WXV 2 and eventually push for WXV 1, that’s where they need to be.

I think it’s a really exciting period because there’s a good bit of time to work on things. For example, let’s look at that driving maul. They got their two tries from it at the weekend and several other tries throughout the competition.

They can’t sit back and think ‘Yes we’re happy with that, let’s work on something else’, I would be thinking ‘That’s going to be our superpower’. You work on that until it becomes no doubt, no separation, a completely connected maul that you’re going to back and use and that’s one of your superpowers.

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Some of the players like Beibhinn Parsons, even the centres like young Aoife Dalton, identify the superpowers in the back line and hone in on them. Drive them home, and have Christmas as one point that you’re working towards before the Six Nations.

One thing that needs to continue to happen in camp is huge competition. It’s hard to get right because you want your squad to be happy and content, but you need competition. That becomes hard for players because you feel like you’re being pipped against another player in your position.

As long as it’s done healthily, you can get the best out of both players and still keep them happy. Some of my favourite camps that I was involved in were where players were getting really riled up and shouting at each other in training, they were some of the best camps.

Afterwards, you’d go inside and make a coffee for the person that you shouted at just to make sure that it’s an on-pitch thing and it’s never carried off the pitch, and you’re doing it because you’re getting the best out of yourself and the team around you.

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The intensity needs to be ramped up, and I trust Scott Bemand who’s been involved with England for high-performance women’s rugby, he knows the level they need to be at. I certainly hope he’s going to drive that and strive for that and make sure that they are the notes that the team are hitting now over the next few months in the lead-up to the Six Nations.

At the stadium in Dubai, the announcer acted as a commentator during key points in the matches. Usually, they will just make announcements of the score and any points scorers, but the announcer would say things like ‘The winger made a break down the left-hand side and gave a lovely pass inside to the centre’. All of this helps to grow the game of 15s for new fans, especially in Dubai and the United Arab Emirates which is known for hosting sevens.

One of the goals of WXV is to give countries a chance to host a competition like this. I’m not sure why it was Dubai that was the host of WXV 3 because they’re not one of the participating nations. In WXV 2 which took place in South Africa, the support for the Springboks women at the weekend was huge, and they were in a bottom-of-the-table play-off with Samoa. There was a huge amount of support, which is amazing on so many different levels.

The exposure to the game, getting young boys and girls to come and watch, extending into schools, it’s such an opportunity to start building a legacy. You help the home team, it becomes three home fixtures in a row. If unions are serious about the progress of their team, they’ll be putting their hand up. Why wasn’t there a WXV 3 host that was involved in the competition? I want to see that taken more seriously.

I want to see the unions, especially someone like Ireland, fighting over the opportunity to host this. To do all of the right things in terms of building a legacy and involvement, but also giving the home team an advantage and taking it seriously that we want to win this and progress as much as we can. Ireland, who have fallen behind more than any other nation, have got to put their hands up and say ‘Yes, we want to host this and give our team the best support possible’.

Up until now, there have been test series in the autumn or summer window, but now with a competion like WXV, it’s not just for the players to get experience. It’s journalists, it’s referees, it’s content creators, and all of the things that need to be done to make women’s rugby into the business that it needs to be.

All of these things go hand in hand, it’s such a huge opportunity across the board in every facet of rugby and women’s rugby to host this competition. I’d be interested to see who puts their hands up to host the next round.

Scotland worked hard to win WXV 2 so fair play to them. I thought Italy were brilliant to watch, really entertaining with brilliant skills. I think they’re going to be two very difficult teams to meet in the Six Nations. Ireland need to be under no illusion that both Scotland and Italy in particular played well in WXV 2.

Italy are constantly looking for support, looking for someone in a better position than them. Scotland did well to release their young winger Francesca McGhie, she did so well for them and Chloe Rollie was so damaging because of the platform that their forwards built for the backs.

WXV 2 was a clear step up from WXV 3, so Ireland need to be very aware that especially now that there’s a European spot going in WXV 2 next year, they have to be in that because that is the level they want to be playing at. It’s difficult because they’re not sure at this stage how far away they are from that level, how much more they’d be punished for those small mistakes and how much harder it would be to create space in attack.

WXV 2 is very impressive, but I do think Ireland could be in the mix there. They could definitely take on Samoa and would be a good competition for South Africa. It’s a shame that Ireland didn’t get to play Fiji this time around in WXV 3, I would have loved to have seen that contest. Fiji as well will definitely be feeling that they can get into WXV 2.

When we look at WXV 1, it’s been brilliant. It’s driving the quality up with highly competitive games, high exposure, a lot on the line. I hope now with the men’s World Cup over, there will be as many eyes as possible on WXV 1 this weekend because the level has been brilliant.

It’s possible that because it’s a year of development and a very young team and the difference between WXV 2 and WXV 3 is so big, Ireland could remain in the lower tier next year. If Ireland were to stay in the same position and be digging around in the same plot of land, I think that would be really disappointing.

Ireland trained with Scotland and the USA before going to WXV and it felt like they got a lot from that. Choosing ambitious warm-up opposition will tell where they want to be. I think they need to be having camp with Wales, a WXV 1 team, just to gauge their level before the Six Nations.

Some big games are coming up for the final weekend of WXV. Australia against Wales, the fact that Australia were able to pull off the win against France, they’re going to be so confident. Wales are looking for their first win, they’re going to be very hungry, maybe Australia will be a little bit wrecked and it’s a good time for Wales to pounce, that will be a brilliant fixture.

France against Canada, Canada especially watching the errors that the French made and watching how Australia punished them for that, they will certainly be looking to do the same thing. England against New Zealand, it’s a replay of the World Cup final.

Looking at where both squads are at I think England are in a far superior place at this moment, but I also thought that before the RWC2021 final last year! New Zealand are such an interesting team that can pull anything out of the bag and for them, playing against England is like the holy grail, they just to win every blade of grass and England will be looking to put a few things right. They’ll be really hungry.

Three huge fixtures for WXV 1 this weekend, and I just hope people are watching it and supporting their women’s teams after having so much excitement and love for their men’s teams during RWC2023. New Zealand need a bonus-point win against England, that’s a huge ask, but I’d never write New Zealand off again after the RWC2021 final.

I was slightly disappointed to see that the women’s World Rugby awards were separate to the men’s and sevens awards as there was a clash with WXV. The players will want to make WXV worth it because they missed the awards which a lot of them would have been right at some at and deserved to have been at. Ironically, a similar error happened with the Ballon d’Or on the soccer side of things.

After fighting for so much for women’s rugby and women’s sport, small things like this are still a reminder of how far there is to go, but at least the rugby is at a stage where it’s speaking for itself. No one can legitimately say women’s rugby is ‘insert insult here’ anymore, especially with a weekend of rugby like this coming up and the performances we’ve seen across WXV.

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