The opening weekend of the Guinness Women’s Six Nations takes place this weekend.

The tournament launched in London this morning and the sponsors made available interviews with managers and players.

Here is what we learned from Scott Bemand and Edel McMahon from the Ireland camp.

How Excited are you at the start of the Guinness Women’s Six Nations?

Scott: Really exciting, a new challenge. We don’t shy away from what went on results wise last 6 Nations but we’ve done WXV, we’ve built some winning momentum and connections and hopefully now just excited to crack into this year’s 6 Nations.

How much value is there in the Celtic Challenge?

Scott: The Celtic Challenge is going to become bigger as we go through, as a preparation tool. It’s actually been hugely beneficial because of the training piece. The results have been pretty close, pretty competitive. The level of challenge has been appropriate. It’s a good way of bringing the group together albeit across two teams.

Have you found it a challenge to have players further apart geographically?

Scott: I don’t know if it’s more of a challenge. It’s a younger programme. With England, professionalism started a few years before so you would say the maturity of their programme is on a couple of years in terms of how people are developing within the programme.

There’s a reasonable amount of touch points, w’ere going to continue to grow those touch points as we go through. I would say the challenges have always existed. But when you get back into camp, there’s a palpable level of excitement to get back in a room together.

Disappointing Championship in 2023. What is outlook now?

Edel: I was injured for the last 6 Nations so my mindset is a little bit different. A lot of girls have grown since that campaign to be senior players, stepping it up having been to a successful WXV. Like Scott was saying they’ve had an opportunity to play in the Celtic Challenge. We’ve seen where we’ve grown from those performances until now. I think people are excited to see where we’re at.

What is target? 

Edel: To qualify for the World Cup. We’ve spoken as a squad, that’s what we want to achieve.

Lots of talk about 7s programme. Is it frustrating that you won’t have access to some of your best players throughout the Championship?

Scott: There’s a strategic goal to do well at the Olympics, there’s a strategic goal to qualify for the World Cup. We’ve got some 7s girls in the programme going into the 6 Nations which will be a continued big part of our pool of players.

Other nations have done it reasonably successfully. You look at New Zealand at the last World Cup with some of the 7s girls coming back into the XVs programme. It can be done.

They’re great people. They add a bit to the environment as well. I think as we get more seamless with those transitions it’ll become smoother and smoother.

When does it get to that next step where the programmes are independent?

Where the game is in terms of playing numbers, that may be some years off. The challenge we face is to get better at transitioning and both succeeding. If we’re successful at an Olympics and a World Cup, that’s got to shine a great spotlight on women’s rugby in Ireland. That’s going to get more interest and traction and help us grow the game.

On the Celtic Challenge, how much of a look-in have you seen to how it’s bridging the gap from the club game to international?

It was coached by IRFU coaches, so it’s almost inside our circle. We had some great conversations. There’s a big piece about the development of coaches, how you can get enough training and support to improve on-pitch performance. There was Ireland coaches at every session. It was hand in hand.

Playing France in France?

Edel: I got to play there two years ago in Toulouse and that was a full crowd. We chat about our experiences on the pitch. I heard quite a lot of noise – from a line break, a big hit, a try score, a turnover of momentum. That was engulfed on the pitch. From an Irish perspective maybe they liked us a bit more than ye found them (to Scott). You kind of zone out of it. It’s an experience to relish.

Sometimes they’ve turned on their own when they make a mistake but it’s a cool experience.

Are you getting enough of a test from prior opponents through WXV or Celtic Challenge?

Scott: It’s a fair point. WXV3 – putting 100 points on Kazakhstan, perhaps it’s not the level of challenge you need going into a 6 Nations. The things that we can control is the training piece. Had experience before about how you can make some quite big gains with how competitive you can make training. Players seem to buy into it as well instead of just drilling.

Being able to try and win it in training. We’ve made it not about preparing a team but preparing a squad. That was one of the successes of WXV3. Girls that were either on the bench or not involved would have felt that they were being prepared and improved to attack training and show what they can do which breeds natural competition. The Spain game did give us a bit of physical nuance. Going into a France game, we know it’s going to be physical, we know what to expect.

I’d like to think the levels of training would prepare us for that.

What is the contracts scenario in Ireland?

There’s currently 43 contracts which is a merge of the 7s and XVs. They got that going relatively not that long ago. So in terms of cycles, it’s in its first iteration. There’s real intent to grow that and to grow that quickly. Post 6 Nations we’ll review that and see where we stand with it – who is developing, progressing and which new players are coming into the market. Celtic Challenge has definitely shown some youngsters coming up through.

Have you spoken to Cliodhna Moloney?

Scott: I know Cli from being based in the UK. I’ve spoken to Cli informally just around wider stuff. There’ll be a time but at the moment it sits where it sits.


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