Ireland women's rugby fullback Niamh Briggs looks back the last year or so for her side in her first blog for Scrumqueens.com. She reflects on her fantastic World Cup experience and brings us right up to speed with Ireland's preparation for next year's Six Nations. The Irish back three player has won 26 caps for her country.
By Niamh Briggs
Watching the World Cup recently brought back so many flashbacks of our event just over a year ago. Four weeks living as full time athletes in amazing surroundings at the Surrey Sports facilities was a fantastic experience albeit living in slight fear that at any time something catastrophic could happen to your room, your gear or even your sanity thanks Joy!. Training full time with your team mates and superb coaches and support staff was an experience that will never leave me. A lot of sacrifices went into to this for all involved. In my case I received marvellous support from An Garda Sochna (the Irish Police Force). Memories abound.
The Irish support was incredible and playing in front of the Sky cameras against England live for the first time was incredible. The support the noise the singing made you felt supremely proud. Even though we were beaten by a very good side, in some ways we felt like it was one of our best performances. The win against the USA in front of a huge Irish support was incredible. Unfortunately we could not score enough against Kazakhstan to see us through to the top four and then losing to the USA in the second game had taken us from major highs to an incredible low. And this was all in the space of two weeks! Other things also stand out. The amount of people who travelled to support us was incredible. It was amazing to walk into the sports facilities rest and relaxing area (the Bar to you and me) where we were greeted by a manic Irish crowd was a great lift after every match. Even though we as full time athletes were not indulging it was great to participate in this raucous choir like environment. We couldnt ask any more from our wonderful supporters who really made the world cup theirs and no matter the result and no matter how high or low we were it didnt matter to them. They were truly there for us.
Stories still flourish. Like the two single friends of mine from my local home of Abbeyside, in Dungarvan. They would be Thomas and Richie who came purely for the rugby and not because there would be loads of ladies at this tournament!! Then there was my sister Roisin who was devastated when she had to return home for a job interview at the end of the second week. She got the job. My Mam ringing my Dad wondering was he ever going to come home (Just to confirm he did come home) Since the World Cup two greats of our international set-up have moved on from our team. Rachel Psycho Reid our Manager for four years has retired. Nothing was ever a problem for Rachel and whatever it was it could always be sorted. Brain Rolo Rowntree has moved on to the Irish mens U20s team. Two superb members of our coaching staff who will be sorely missed. We wish both of them the very best for the future.
Anyway enough of down memory lane and back to the bread and butter. After a good summer break this year the season started in full flow as our annual Interprovincial Tournament comprising of Connacht, Leinster, Munster and Ulster, was brought forward to September in order to make sure that this year it was finished. The last two seasons the Interprovincials were called off because of the Irish weather. Having won the previous five years my side, Munster were bidding for six-in-a-row. However we were halted by an excellent Leinster side in the final game. In what was a very physical game Leinster dominated across the park and really deserved their victory - there I said it! They were led by Irish captain Fiona Coghlan who we have all soldiered with in the trenches with Ireland. We wouldnt begrudge it to Fiona and her Leinster team and also to Niamh Hughes who is undoubtedly Leinsters and Irelands best supporter! But Ive no doubt that Munster will be back next year. It will be great fun working on getting our title back. However I suspect it wont be a two horse race as both Ulster and Connacht are improving at a rapid pace.
After that it was straight back to club activity with UL Bohemians. Its always great to get back to the club. Its why most of us play rugby as we are out there slogging it with our mates (yes even Fiona!). The first three games for us at Bohs were played against some of the top sides in the country. Although they were really tough games we have come away with three wins. This has been a super start for us and hopefully we can now push on for the second block of games before Christmas. The format has changed to the league this year so every win is vital to guarantee us a place in the top four.
In terms of the Irish set up we have been busy with our new conditioning programme thanks to our strength and conditioning Coach Ross OCallaghan. Ross has set up centres across the country to minimise travelling and also allows us to get together more often. A squad was announced recently and its brilliant to see so many new faces from both here in Ireland and from across the water as more exiles are included. Its also great to see some old heads like Helen Brosnan, Grace Davitt and Tania Rosser back after a year off after the World Cup. I have to admit as being a little jealous when I see the likes of England, France and Scotland playing tests before Christmas. It is an honour to put on the green jersey but to be able to do it more often would not only be brilliant but Im sure it would also help us to improve together as a squad.
I would also like to wish Gemma Crowley the very best of luck in her new position as Irish Ladies Manager. Gemma will have a hard act to follow having taken over from Rachel Reid but we know Gemma will bring her own style and hard graft to this role and is definitely very suited to the job . This is definitely an exciting time in Irish Rugby as the game is continuing to grow and with the conditioning programme in place I think that I speak for all when I say that Im really looking forward to getting together for our camps and reaping the benefits.