Ireland beat Japan 15-12 in captain Ciara Griffin and Adam Griggs' final game, so Fiona Hayes joined Monday Night Rugby to discuss Greg McWilliams' team moving forward.
Ireland went down to 14 women and were down by nine points at halftime.
Hannah O'Conner received a red card in the first half, so it was set to be another tumultuous game in a tumultuous year for the Ireland women's rugby team. The worst possible way to send off retiring 27-year-old captain Ciara Griffin. But then Griffin herself sparked the comeback. Ireland ran out 15-12 winners thanks in large part to her two tries.
This victory comes a week after Ireland beat the USA in Donnybrook. Two wins on the bounce is big for this team right now, regardless of who they came against.
Greg McWilliams is now the team's coach. He takes over for Adam Griggs who coached his final game against Japan. McWilliams inherits a side that failed to qualify for the World Cup and will lose players throughout the year to sevens duty. Beibhinn Parsons, Stacey Flood, Amy Leigh Murphy Crowe and Eve Higgins are playing sevens rugby in Dubai this week.
With the sevens World Cup is on in Cape Town next year, they will prioritize that competition moving forward. McWilliams will develop the players available to him. That means Ireland's struggles will likely continue, but Fiona Hayes sees the potential to build on in the young squad.
"This showed heart and this showed character," Hayes said of the Japan performance.
"That had come into question in the World Cup Qualifiers. They talked about the camps the girls had and everything that was put in, but sometimes people questioned when they got to gameday if that was there. And these two last matches, although skill set let them down at times, both teams America and Japan were probably a bit poor when they came over, but we saw Ireland's heart and Ireland's character.
"There was also a couple of young girls that stood up."
Ireland's women's players aren't professional. That plays a part in the early retirements. It also means players are working full-time jobs while representing their country at the highest level. McWilliams must inspire the group and develop the younger players coming through to change the direction of the team.
He has a blank canvas after the recent campaign. That's the one silver lining.
"Greg McWilliams going into this new position has a blank canvas now. They've shown the heart, they've shown the will but he's got a lot to improve with them. If you have the character there, if you have young players wanting to put their hand up, some back rowers coming in, some second rowers...it's going to be tough in the Six Nations but it's about growing it now.
"He's got that team and he's got to get them together."
This game won't mean anything in the long run. It was a quiet ending to the disappointing Adam Griggs era. Enya Breen played 10 and impressed, but didn't answer any long-term questions. Stacey Flood should be Ireland's starting 10, but she will be spending too much time with the sevens team moving forward.
McWilliams has to figure out if it's best for Ireland to focus on the players he can develop with more training or if Flood's value in a part-time role is greater.
🏉 2 tries
🏆 Player of the match
☘️ 36 caps for Ireland
Captain @griffinciara94 signed off in style as Ireland edged out 15-12 winners over Japan | #IREvJPN
Thank you, Ciara 💚@VodafoneIreland | #TeamOfUs pic.twitter.com/kCAM7vNwzB
— Off The Ball (@offtheball) November 20, 2021
But for now, the players can just be happy they gave their captain the appropriate send-off. She retires after 36 caps for her country.
"We obviously didn't have the sevens girls involved with this last game, so there was a couple of changes. We got to see Enya Breen at 10. I thought she had quite a good game. At times, skill set wasn't great, but they went out and they won it. They were able to celebrate and send Ciara off in style."
Joey Carbery is an option at 12 for Ireland | Andy Farrell
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