We have a look at the statistics behind Ireland Women’s Six Nations campaign in terms of player involvement. With just over four months go until Ireland’s opening fixture against Australia on 9th August how many Ulster Players are likely to be involved in that opening match?
Before we get to the statistics let’s have a look at how Ireland Women performed over the Six Nations.
From the Ulster perspective things aren’t looking good to be honest. Coach Tom Tierney named 31 players in the various squads for the Six Nations matches with only four of those 31, or 12.9%, Ulster players. Unfortunately when you look at actual minutes played over the five games the Ulster involvement drops to a paltry 4.3%, based on minutes on the pitch, as you can see below.
It’s a big Leinster involvement but I would have expected higher for Munster, given that Limerick outfit UL Bohemians are sitting clear at the top of the AIL. There is not a lot I can complain about as far as Ulster are concerned with Cooke second from bottom in the AIL and Ulster Women without a win in the Interprovincials over the last five seasons.
Ireland Women: A Successful Series.
While the series has largely been regarded as a success, I have to say that I was disappointed, but I guess that all depends on your perspective and your expectations. It’s an improvement on the Autumn Series but Ireland, a top four side at the last World Cup, have definitely slipped further behind the top three of England, New Zealand and Canada and will struggle against their, World Cup Pool opponents, France and Australia, who sit directly above and below them in the current World Rankings.
Little has been done to develop the team beyond a defensive back line with a big set of rumbling forwards. Seven of the twelve tries in the Six Nations came from the pack with another three scored from close in after the defences were worked over by the pack. Apart from Alison Miller there is little genuine threat out wide.
Nora Stapleton and Hannah Tyrrell also contributed with the boot leaving the overall points scorers as follows.
Thirty one players were used in this series. If you include the Autumn Series, that rises to 41 players in the Ireland set up over the last six months but few have made the transition with the first choice side still heavily reliant on the players developed under the previous regime. The defensive patterns and set plays are there but the ability to perform the core skills is way behind where it needs to be and way behind where it was.
If there was a bottomless pit of players, and a network of skills coaches to work on the players at club and province, then throwing the players into a position and seeing how they get on would be understandable as there would be a support mechanism in place to help them improve their individual game but that’s certainly not the case in Irish women’s rugby.
Off the players named in the matchday squads, one didn’t get any game time and a further five got less than 30 minutes over the five games. A further two were discarded after a half against Scotland, never to be seen again!
So after three years of planning, a ten times increase in financial resources, the appointment of a full time Director of Women’s Rugby and a full time coaching team it looks like we’re down to the bare bones of 23 players to go forward through the World Cup warm up matches! In fact the top 12 of the players shown above enjoyed just over 70% of the game time over the last five games, the bottom 12 getting just 6%. Extending this over the 41 players that took part in the Six Nations and the Autumn Series the top 16 got 77% of game time and the bottom 16 got 8%.
Of course, injuries and the demands of the lucrative Sevens program have dictated the availability of some players, so looking four and a bit months into the future what will that starting team for that all important game against Australia look like?
Ireland Women team for Australia.
Minutes played in Six Nations series included after players name. * indicates player capped during this series.
15. Fullback: Niamh Briggs
Mairead Coyne 240, and Kim Flood 132 have dominated the full back position over the last five games and Niamh Briggs 0 hasn’t played for Ireland since her solitary outing against New Zealand in the autumn. However, if Briggs is fit she will play. The Munster legend just brings too much to the party but she has to be a huge injury risk even if she is prepared to play through any amount of pain to lead her team in their home World Cup.
14. Right wing: Hannah Tyrrell
Niamh Kavanagh 40 started as favourite but lost out to Hannah Tyrrell 240 after the Scotland match with Kim Flood 80 standing in when Tyrrell was away on Sevens duty. Ashleigh Baxter would be a viable outsider having played in all five matches of the 2014 World Cup but the Sevens star appears to be being groomed for wing forward.
13. Outside centre: Jenny Murphy
The return of Jenny Murphy 391 couldn’t have been more timely and she has wasted no time making the No. 13 shirt her own. She is now integral to Ireland’s chances.
12. Inside centre: Sene Naoupu
The retirement of the wonderful Lynn Cantwell and Grace Davitt have made this a real problem position and Ireland have struggled to find a real playmaker of their calibre. Sene Naoupu 320 has brought her uncompromising, if unpredictable, approach to the game while Claire McLaughlin 80 favours a more controlled game and to me is easier to play off. I continually find myself frustrated by Naoupu’s preference for contact, losing the ball as often as making a clean break, but her overall influence as a senior team member cannot be overlooked or undervalued. It’ll be no surprise that my own preference would be Ulster’s McLaughlin, with Naoupu coming on for the last 20 to wreck havoc, but McLaughlin’s injury has probably consigned her to a replacements spot.
11. Left wing: Alison Miller
Alison Miller 320 played every minute of every game she was selected for, as she did in the last World Cup. Eimear Considine 80 stood in well during Miller’s Sevens absence but she’ll be fighting it out for a replacements spot. Miller is an unassailable starter.
10. Out half: Nora Stapleton
Nora Stapleton 383 had an almost flawless series until the match against England. Ulster’s Nikki Caughey looks to be the only viable alternative but, with only 23 minutes game time during the Six Nations, Caughey will be fighting it out with a few others for a spot on the replacements bench.
9. Scrum half: Larissa Muldoon
Three scrum halfs were trialled over the Six Nations, Ailsa Hughes* 109, Mary Healy 94 and Larissa Muldoon 44. Muldoon and Healy also picked up an additional 66 and 87 minutes respectively from the bench. My own preference is for Ulster’s Muldoon as she is more able to wind up and point the big pack in the right direction. The faster Healy to come on later in the game.
1. Loosehead prop: Lindsay Peat
Despite a yellow card Lindsay Peat still clocked up 357 minutes over the five games and deservedly so, her all round game is fantastic. My Irish player of the series.
2. Hooker: Cliodhna Moloney
Despite being injured for the entirety of the Six Nations Cliodhna Moloney 0 is still my first choice pick despite an impressive series from the affable Leah Lyons 380 who ended up Ireland’s leading try scorer. Moloney just brings to much extra to the role to be overlooked.
3. Tighthead prop: Ailis Egan
Another big shift of a series from Ailis Egan 355. Ciara O’Connor* 16 and Ruth O’Reilly 29 did get limited game time but Egan, literally and figuratively is going to be hard to shift.
4. Second row: Sophie Spence
The return of Sophie Spence 240 to International duty has probably been the biggest boost to the International program this season, the world class player completing a formidable front five that no side will relish facing. Erstwhile replacements Orla Fitzsimons 40 and Elaine Anthony 40 seemed to have dropped out of the picture all together as Spence played the full match in every game she started.
5. Second row: Marie Louise Reilly
Marie Louise Reilly 393 is the ultimate line out operator in the women’s game and she continued to dominate the airways in this series.
6. Blindside wing forward: Ciara Griffin
Ciara Griffin 359 is another who’s dominated her position with Ciara Cooney 66 and Nichola Fryday 11 the main replacements, Cooney covering back row and second row.
7. Openside wing forward: Claire Molloy
A wonderful, wonderful player Claire Molloy 371 only missed out on every minute of every match due to a second half injury against England. It’s no coincidence that England started to cut loose after her departure.
8. No 8: Paula Fitzpatrick
Another world class player in the back row Paula Fitzpatrick 382 has been focusing more on her captaincy than on the exceptional form she showed three years ago. Still one of Ireland’s stand out players and did a good job re-focusing the team after the mid series kerfuffle over the Sevens players.
16. Replacement hooker: Leah Lyons
Leah Lyons 380 had a good series and made the most of her opportunity. Could reach “Super Sub” status if used correctly. Certainly capable of changing the game up front.
17. Replacement loosehead: Ilse van Staden
Despite coming late to the party Ilse van Staden* 41 has comfortably played her way onto the bench and is probably Ireland’s strongest scrummager. If it wasn’t for Peat’s fantastic all round game van Staden would be pushing for a starting berth.
18. Replacement tighthead: Ruth O’Reilly.
Still a bit a uncertainty with this one. Ciara O’Connor* 16 started the series before Ruth O’Reilly 29 took over for the last three games and Fiona Reidy also got some game time in the Autumn. However I think it’ll be a deserved World Cup for O’Reilly.
19. Replacement second row: Orla Fitzsimons
Elaine Anthony 40 and Ciara Cooney 66 both subbed as replacement second row with Cooney picking up most of her game time as a back row replacement. Orla Fitzsimons racked up 131 minutes in the autumn and I expect, if fit, that the replacement spot will go her way.
20. Replacement back row: Nichola Fryday
A variety of players have been tried out here but Nichola Fryday 11 appears to be the player in possession despite limited game time. Elaine Anthony 40 and Ciara Cooney 66 could also be pushing for this spot.
21. Replacement scrum half: Mary Healy 87
If she doesn’t start then Mary Healy 87 will be the replacement scrum half.
22. Utility midfield back: Claire McLaughlin
It’ll be a battle between the two Ulster players Claire McLaughlin 2 and Nikki Caughey 24, Who’ll be benching will probably depend on Niamh Briggs fitness as Briggs and Caughey cover out half.
23. Utility back three: Mairead Coyne
Eimear Considine 40, Louise Galvin 0 and Mairead Coyne 18 all covered the back three and if Briggs is fit then Claire McLaughlin and Kim Flood may come into the equation along with Jackie Shiels and Niamh Kavanagh as outsiders. I suspect that Flood who clocked up 132 minutes as a starter and Coyne who clocked up 240 minutes are the frontrunners with my vote going to Coyne.