Ciara Griffin column: 'Seven's withdrawals are an unnecessary distraction before England trip' - New Style Motorsport

ciara griffin

Venue of events: Welford Street, Leicester Date: Sunday, April 24 Kick off: 12:00 BST
Coverage: Watch it on BBC Two; listen on BBC Radio 5 Live Sports Extra; live text commentary on the BBC Sport website and app

Facing England is always a big challenge, so the last thing Ireland needed in preparation for Sunday was the disruption caused by the return of key players to the sevens setup.

It is a very difficult position to be in. I know that Ireland head coach Greg McWilliams said from the start that the players were eligible for the sevens selection, but it is an unnecessary distraction before such an important game against England.

The sevens had also integrated seamlessly into the 15s. Eve Higgins has been immense in the centre, playing her best rugby at 15 level, Stacey Flood has done well at 12, Lucy Mulhall has shown her versatility and Amee-Leigh Murphy Crowe has been electric on the wing.

With Beibhinn Parsons and Brittany Hogan also out, many of the big names who have been involved in the last three games are unavailable, and that only hurts Ireland’s chances by disrupting the cohesion that has been built during this championship.

They were playing great rugby and had become an integral part of the team. It would have been great to see what those players could have done against England, so it’s a missed opportunity as well as being stressful for the remaining players.

Sometimes it all comes down to basic communication. It sounds simple, but it is often overlooked.

The Sevens schedule is packed and they need to qualify for the 2024 Olympics, but the respective schedules need to align in a way that suits both codes. That is something to be seen in the future.

I know the IRFU wants to grow the game of sevens, but we need to grow the 15 as much as possible, not everything can be centered around sevens.

It is not the first time it happens. In 2017 players were withdrawn due to Sevens commitments before we played France at Donnybrook. We then won that game, but considering how many quality players were missing this time around, it’s a huge request for Ireland to get a result at Welford Road on Sunday.

Beibhinn Parsons, Stacey Flood, and Eve Higgins
Beibhinn Parsons, Stacey Flood and Eve Higgins are unavailable for the trip from Ireland to England due to Seven commitments.

Hopefully this will be the last time we see an outage of this nature because it’s unfair to players.

Sam Monaghan’s injury is also a big blow. Sam has been a tournament player in Ireland. His physique, work rate and skill level have been exceptional and he has become a true leader on the team.

I really wanted to see her take on Poppy Cleall and Abbie Ward. She plays them regularly at club level, but the international level is a much higher stage, so hopefully she can get her fitness back in time for the Scotland game in Belfast.

‘England reaping the fruits of a long-term vision’

Ireland will have been pleased to secure a much-needed victory against Italy. Not only did they get the job done in front of a huge crowd in Cork, but the collective performance was also much improved in terms of unforced errors.

In saying that, facing England is a completely different proposition. They are undoubtedly the best team in the world and have demonstrated that with its recent results.

They have said on occasion that they haven’t been playing their best rugby, but they are still putting 50 points into teams, so it shows the standards they hold.

What we are seeing now with England is the result of investment and belief in a programme. They took a risk by turning pro before the 2017 World Cup, but now they are reaping the rewards of that long-term vision.

They are such a cohesive unit and that comes from the familiarity of time together, both on and off the field. When you’re a professional midfielder, you have the opportunity not only to play together, but also to recover and do analysis sessions together; it all adds up and improves the cohesion and skill level within the team.

Whichever way you look at it, it will be a great challenge for Ireland. It’s important for Ireland to focus on what we would call ‘mini wins’, which can be on breakdown or set pieces or defense like a maul on a set piece, because we’ve seen some of England’s mauls last 20 – more meters.

In an offensive sense, Ireland must remember to play hand-to-hand rugby and not get into their shell. After all, this is a chance for them to show what they can do against the best players in the world, and they’ll get a serious test of their credentials.

There was always a different advantage in preparing for an England game because of what it means for both countries.

Playing in England brings a different mindset and I’m sure a lot of players will. Some of the Irish players are facing England for the first time so trying to control their energy will be a new challenge for them.

If they can channel that mixture of nervous and excited pre-game energy into a disciplined performance, there could be positives to take from Welford Road before welcoming Scotland to Kingspan Stadium.

Ciara Griffin was speaking to BBC Sport’s Matt Gault.

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