The only people that Niamh Briggs consulted when invited to become Assistant Manager of the Ireland Women’s Rugby team were herself and her family.

Speaking to Sport for Business yesterday as Pinergy announced a ten-year extended partnership with Munster Rugby, we asked whether the controversy about the commitment to the women’s game had played on her mind.

“To be honest when I got the call from Gregg and Anthony I sat on it for a few days just to make sure I got clarity in my own mind.”

“I spoke to my family but then I didn’t really talk to anyone else until the news broke. I just needed to make sure it was right for me.”

There were so many good things about it for me. It was about the talent that is out there and I wanted to do something that was giving back for the good of the game.”

“It was also really important for me to be right about it in my own positions within UL Bohemians and Munster. I don’t think I’d be suited to just coaching a group for small periods of the year.”

We then checked in on whether she had put to one side the different reviews that are ongoing into the Women’s game. falling out of the failure to qualify last year for this year’s Rugby World Cup and a perception that the top-level support was not as forthcoming as might have been suggested.

“I’ve always concentrated on what we could control on the pitch as opposed to off it. That’s what the narrative is that I’ll be driving. We can continue to get ourselves better on the pitch. I’ll leave things that are happening off the pitch to those on a higher pay grade than me.”

“That’s all I know and that’s not being ignorant or facetious about the fact that I’m not ignoring things.”

“All I know is rugby and how I coach it and how I play it and how I can improve myself. That’s all really.”

Commitment

The time commitment to becoming involved in a third senior team, all on an amateur basis was another area we asked her about.

“I’m still very much a Guard in Limerick. It’ll be busy but it has been for the last 13 years. I love my job and it’s a break for me from Rugby.”

“When I’m not working I’m watching sessions, going online trying to improve or listening to podcasts about Rugby. My housemates say that I need to get a hobby but this is it. My hobby is rugby and I don’t see that changing any time soon.”

Moving on to the group of players that she is working with as part of the Ireland set-up, Briggs could not hide her excitement at the talent coming through.

“Even just in the AIL without looking across the water you’re looking at the likes of Nikki Caughey, Nicole Cronin, Aoibheann O’Reilly, so good. Those kinds of players give you a huge amount of excitement because they have no fear when they play.”

“I know Aoibheann has been away with the Sevens but watching her over the last few weeks has been huge.”

“This girl Natasja Behan from Blackrock just blew me away, she’s taken to senior rugby like a duck to water. There’s just a huge amount of talent across the board.

“It’s really important to note that when they get into the Top Four of the AIL they’re playing competitive games week-in and week-out for six or seven weeks, every week you can see the games being a better calibre, a higher pace, it’s huge and brilliant to see that. I’m so excited to get my hands on them to be able to shape how we want to play, and more so than that to provide them with enough confidence that they can go and express themselves.”

“There’s something very pure about women’s rugby because it’s not honed in on physique and strength, it’s to do with skill and the ability to move around the park, and that’s a big focal point for us.”

The TikTok Women’s Six Nations will be played between the 26th March and the 30th April. Ireland play Wales in the RDS Arena on March 26th, Italy in Musgrave Park on 10th April, Scotland in Kingspan Stadium on 30th April, France and England away in between. All of the games will be broadcast live and free to air on RTÉ and Virgin Media.

 

Sport for Business Perspective:

Given the amount of fiery rhetoric that was flying around the Women’s game at the turn of the year, it must have been a bit harder to commit in full than Niamh is letting on. She played alongside many of those who penned the grenade of a letter that has brought things to a head but she was right to do what was right for her and to work at improving things from the inside.

Some may say it was a political appointment but Briggs is a tougher character than for that to be the case and her relationship across the years with manager Gregg McWilliams is one that is based on mutual respect.

The opportunity to stand up as an elite coach is something she was right to accept, especially in the midst of such a busy life. She can be a rare role model for how it should not just be on the pitch and on the screen that equality is being wrestled into a better place.