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Key ingredients for Ireland in their Rugby World Cup 2025 journey

By Anna Caplice
BELFAST, NORTHERN IRELAND - APRIL 27: Ireland players celebrate after the team's victory and qualification for the 2025 Women's Rugby World Cup during the Guinness Women's Six Nations 2024 match between Ireland and Scotland at Kingspan Stadium on April 27, 2024 in Belfast, Northern Ireland. (Photo by Charles McQuillan/Getty Images)

As the 2024 Women’s Six Nations drew to a close on Super Saturday, I doubt many were surprised that it was England once again who took the Grand Slam Championship in scintillating fashion and somehow seem to be improving week on week despite already being streets ahead of everybody else.

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People may have been surprised, however, that it was last year’s wooden spoon holders that finished the competition in third place and therefore qualified for next year’s Rugby World Cup and also WXV1. Ireland have had a rollercoaster few years but to have already qualified for the tournament that took place without them the last time is an enormous achievement that cannot be overlooked.

The journey begins now and it’s a massive task for this young squad. However, there are a few key ingredients that I believe will contribute to a successful path to the tournament which will be held in England in 2025. I have picked out four of those to share today.

Coach Scott Bemand

Bemand’s first gig with this team was the trip to Dubai for the lowest tier global competition WXV3 for which they qualified with the Wooden Spoon result of last year’s Six Nations. They had massive results versus Kazakhstan and Colombia and scraped by Spain but it was enough for them to win a bit of silverware on Bemand’s and many young players’ first outing.

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It was also the first outing for Sam Monaghan and Edel McMahon as co-captains. This was the first move by Bemand that made me think “Okay… someone who isn’t afraid to try something new.” I was impressed by this move and even more so when he kept the formula for the Six Nations. It’s not your traditional style of choosing one main captain and a vice-captain, usually one back and one forward. Bemand recognised the value in both players and how their strengths in leadership could be used together.

Another new approach brought in by Bemand to this squad is his inclusion of the wider squad on match day. Usually, you have your 23 plus one reserve and if you didn’t make the cut you watch from home or from the stands. Keeping the wider squad involved throughout makes a big difference in feeling included.

If you’re a player who jumps in and out of the squad you can easily become a bit lost and feel like the squad has grown without you and you’ve missed part of the journey. It might seem like a small detail, but for a player that is massive. The extra players have taken on tasks like running the water and the tee on and also taking part in the post-match conditioning – another extension of Bemand’s fresh approaches within this team which I’ve really enjoyed seeing.

Usually, players who don’t start do some extra work postgame to make up for their time on the bench. In the past, it would just consist of some straight-line running and getting metres in the legs and blowing out the lungs.

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A valuable exercise. However, I was surprised in Le Mans for the first round of the tournament when I saw not only the bench players, but players who were outside of the named 24, in attendance at an away game and kitted out to take part in conditioned games and skills after the match.

Yes, you get the metres in the legs and blow out the lungs, but you’re also building in passing, communication and game awareness skills for the whole squad. Again, it might seem like a small detail – but I think it’s a very worthwhile addition.

Experience

Having already credited Bemand with his selection of co-captains for this squad, it’s time to credit the girls themselves for their contribution as leaders to this team. McMahon and Monaghan have taken on the role brilliantly, as you would expect natural leaders to do and it’s a credit to them that in the two games where both were selected, Ireland won. Yes, on-field decision-making needs to get better, but to have ground out a third-place finish, with plenty of room for improvement, is a good place to start.

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A huge moment for Ireland in this year’s tournament was the recalling of Cliodhna Moloney to the squad. If you’ve missed out on the significance of this for Irish Rugby then you must have been living under a rock.

Not only was Moloney’s contribution on the pitch of huge value to Ireland’s tournament where she scored a try to solidify Ireland’s win versus Scotland, her return was almost symbolic in this journey of breaking the cycle of old ways and getting Irish women’s rugby back to where it belongs.

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Other experience continues to grow across the squad with the likes of Linda Djougang, Neve Jones, and Brittany Hogan, to name just a few, all in outstanding form.

Youth

The experience of this group is fortified by the green shoots that are forcing their way upwards amongst this squad. How could we not mention 21-year-old Aoife Wafer who had a scintillating run in the tournament? Not only is she a sure contender for Ireland’s Player of The Year, she has also been nominated as one of the players of the tournament by Guinness Six Nations.

When we count her alongside the superb Dannah O’Brien, who we have to remind ourselves is only 19 years old, it’s an exciting prospect for the future of this team.

21-year-old Aoife Dalton is unlucky that there are only two centre positions to be filled on the pitch, but her time will come as well and I believe between these three players we are looking at future household names in Irish rugby.

Considering the quality of the All Ireland League final which took place on Sunday, it is likely that there are many more in our midst.

Wales’s mistakes might be Ireland’s lessons

After last year’s third-place finish for Wales they bought themselves a ticket to New Zealand for WXV1 to partake in the top-tier competition. Although they did not record a victory it was believed by many that their top form would continue into this year’s Six Nations thanks to that experience and their full-time professional programme which is now in its second year.

However, it was quite a shock to many, not least the Welsh girls themselves, that they turned up massively undercooked for this tournament and by the skin of their teeth recorded one win, in the final round, versus Italy in front of a record crowd at the Principality Stadium.

If Ireland can take one lesson from the Welsh experience from this last year, it’s that qualification for WXV 1 does not buy you the right to be favourites versus lower-ranked teams.

It could, however, buy you some complacency and Ireland will have to work incredibly hard to refuse to become that team. They have a lot of work to do to right the many wrongs of this year’s performances while holding on to the grit and determination they have mustered to finish third.

Many have asked: is it too much, too soon for this Irish squad?

Maybe so. However, I would take “too much, too soon” any day ahead of “too little, too late”. And God knows we have had enough of the latter in Irish women’s rugby.

The Women's Rugby World Cup 2025 is coming to England. Register now here to be the first to hear about tickets.

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