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New-look Ireland aren't panicking about playing France, explains Higgins

By Lucy Lomax
Wales' Siwan Lillicrap (left) tackles Ireland's Eve Higgins (right)(Photo by Nick Potts/PA Images via Getty Images)

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Ireland fell to a 19-27 home defeat to Wales in their opening game of the TikTok Women’s Six Nations with the women in red taking the lead with only five minutes to go.

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Considering Ireland have won nine of their last 10 games against Wales in the TikTok Women’s Six Nations, and beat them by a record margin (45-0) away from home last year, the Welsh players and supporters were rightly jubilant at the final whistle.

The past year has been a difficult one for Ireland with their failure to qualify for the World Cup well-documented and the atmosphere turning even more sour towards Christmas when current and former players wrote to the Irish government to express a lack of trust in the Irish Rugby Football Union (IRFU).

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Since then, Head Coach Adam Griggs has left his post with Greg McWilliams coming in bringing with him former Ireland fly-half Niamh Briggs. With a new coaching set up, nine uncapped players in the squad and a new captain in Nicola Fryday, it’s more of a rebuilding process for Ireland during this year’s tournament.

Despite the bragging rights falling to Wales, outside centre Eve Higgins says there is still plenty to build on.

“Wales’ last 15 minutes was a great performance, their forward pack was very strong and they used their bench very well, so full credit to them,” said the 22-year-old outside centre.

“We definitely saw positive areas from us throughout the game but our exit strategy didn’t go to plan and we couldn’t escape our own 22, let alone our own half for periods of the game.

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“It’s the reality of having three camps together pre-Six Nations, so obviously not everything is going to be perfect but we’re also learning a new system and are under new management, so lots of areas to improve.”

The task of recording a 2022 Six Nations win for Ireland gets a lot harder this weekend as they travel away to high-flying France.

“We’re in a very different stage of our journey to France,” said Higgins reflectively. “We have a relatively new looking team and we’re on the start of our journey, whereas France are building to a World Cup. We are just relishing the opportunity to play them and looking forward to it as we have nothing to lose. All we want to do this tournament is build on our performances.”

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Alongside playing for Ireland in the 15s format, Higgins is also a full-time contracted sevens player employed by the IRFU, whilst also studying a part-time Masters in Criminology at University College Dublin. With the only current option to play professionally in Ireland being the sevens programme, many are in a similar position with eight players involved against Wales owning a sevens contract.

“It’s nice to have that consistency and play with the same sevens players I’m familiar with in the Six Nations. For example, Stacey (Flood) has switched to inside centre this year and I’ve known Stacey since I was 14 playing club rugby for Railway Union and since I was 18 playing sevens, so that’s good as you want that centre partnership to be strong.

“It can be hard balancing my studies alongside training but Greg (Head Coach) has made it very clear, that once we’re in the 15s bubble there is no difference between sevens and 15s players.”

Similar to England’s situation when sevens contracts were offered around ahead of the 2016 Rio Olympics, not only are Ireland players involved in international XVs matches but also with their club leagues too, which in Ireland takes the form of the All Ireland League (AIL).

Higgins still plays for her childhood club team Railway Union RFC, based in Dublin, who saw success on the pitch this season winning the Energia AIL Women’s Division Trophy for the second year in a row, with Higgins handed the player of the match award in the final.

“Being a sevens contracted player there is not a lot of opportunity to play club rugby in the AIL so it was very special to come off the Seville and Malaga tournaments and be able to represent my club in an AIL final and to do it back-to-back is something very difficult to do and something very special to be a part of.”

Many of Higgin’s fellow Ireland 15s players are currently plying their trade over in England in the Premier 15s, but Higgins admits the time is not right for her at the moment if she wished to do the same.

“It’s crossed my mind with the set-up England have with the Premier 15s and even in France where Linda (Djougang) is playing. It’s something I’m very aware of but at the same time I’m studying and contracted to sevens and we train full time throughout the week so for the near future I don’t see it happening.”

Ireland’s match at the weekend saw a record crowd attendance of over 6,000 at the RDS which demonstrates the benefit of the championship being moved to its own window. It was an occasion not lost on Higgins.

“For myself personally I grew up watching Leinster and my parents would bring me to the RDS to watch them. We played the USA and Japan at the RDS last autumn which felt quite surreal but the support this time round, having over 6,000 people watching us and supporting was extremely special.

“Even some of the Welsh players commented and said the support was immense and that they want to see the same back at Cardiff Arms Park. That’s what you want, people coming out to support their national teams, so long may it continue throughout the Six Nations.”

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