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Ciara Griffin column: 'Unfamiliar Belfast setting can benefit Ireland against Scotland'

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Published in Rugby
Thursday, 28 April 2022 00:06

It is great to see the Six Nations finally coming to Belfast as Ireland look to sign off a difficult campaign with a win over Scotland.

Having the game at Kingspan Stadium will be a great showcase for women's rugby and will give supporters who can't make it to games in Dublin the chance to watch Ireland on their doorstep.

Moving Ireland's home games around has been successful. There was a record crowd in Musgrave Park for the win over Italy and high numbers in the RDS for the defeat by Wales so I hope we see big numbers in Belfast to show both the growth of the game and that Irish rugby isn't confined to Dublin.

I've always loved Kingspan. I played there four times, twice with Ireland and twice with Munster, and I think it's a fantastic stadium. It always produces a great atmosphere, it's like the stadium catches noise regardless of how many are there. It echoes around you.

I hope there is a strong turnout for the team because they deserve it. They've put their heart and soul into this campaign so it's important for people to go out and back them.

The team can benefit from a change as well. It's nice to see different stadia, it can change up the routine because if you're in the same stadium all the time, it can get monotonous in the build-up so a change in scenery can maybe work to their advantage.

Scotland is Ireland's last home game for a while and it's a new venue. Ireland will want to right a few wrongs from the England defeat and take some solace before they return to club rugby.

Scotland will be hurting, though, and beating them will be no mean feat. They will have been frustrated by their performance against Italy, letting a lead slip at half time to lose in Parma, but they have a lot of experienced players and will be fired up to get a win before they start their preparations for the World Cup.

Scoreline not a fair reflection of Ireland's effort

It may sound strange given the 69-0 scoreline, but Ireland can definitely take positives away from the England defeat.

The game was an illustration of England's power and skill level as the Red Roses marched to a 22nd victory in a row.

Ireland will be disappointed with the scoreline, but it doesn't reflect their effort as a whole.

It was always going to be a massive ask, but Ireland did very well in the first half. They kept England to 10-0 and that's quite positive because not many teams have done that.

Ireland really attacked that breakdown. Edel McMahon was momentous in that game with her work at the breakdown and her defensive work, really slowing down that English attacking ruck.

England had the fastest ruck speed of any team in the tournament going into the game, but Ireland forced England to recruit more players into it and that gave Ireland time to set their line.

You could see it frustrated England and forced them into unforced errors inside the Irish 22 that we hadn't previously seen from Simon Middleton's team.

The absence of the sevens players was obviously really disappointing. It is unfair on the players because you have players that have been in camp for 10 weeks and didn't get much game time the first few rounds and then suddenly they're thrown into the frying pan against England.

This isn't a pick and mix. The Six Nations is one of the most sought-after competitions to play in. I always used to relish it and I just hope we stop disregarding the Six Nations because you want your best playing in that tournament.

Time for action over sevens issue

At the end of the day, Ireland are an amateur team that had players taken away from them mid-tournament.

As for England, they are a team in which their union invested. They're clearly reaping the rewards because they are 22 games unbeaten, they're going for the Grand Slam on Saturday and will be one of the favourites to win the World Cup in September.

That all shows the benefit of investment. England had a similar situation in 2015 when the RFU took a lot of the sevens players from the 15s team and they had one of their more disappointing campaigns, but they made a decision to focus on the 15s and I hope the IRFU will do that.

They've had positive talks but we need to see action because there's nothing worse than playing your heart out while battling obstacles that are beyond your control.

It was, however, encouraging to hear United Rugby Championship chief executive Martin Anayi say there is a "will" to establish a women's competition.

It's brilliant to hear that they see a women's URC as a viable option. Women's rugby is the fastest growing game so it makes sense to invest in it. I hope they back up their words and put pen to paper because women's rugby is fast and exciting.

I've always believed that the inter-provincial series is not used to its full potential in Ireland. It's either three or five games once a year, so if you had a more competitive structure throughout the year it would help grow the game here and create a bright future for Ireland.

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

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