Ireland head coach Scott Bemand and his newly crowned co-captain Edel McMahon are confident the XV3 series can serve as a “fresh start” in a new era for Irish women's rugby.
Tomorrow’s game against Kazakhstan marks Bemand’s first in charge. He succeeds Greg McWilliams in the role after he departed in May of this year following a poor Six Nations campaign.
Ireland co captain Edel McMahon explained the reasoning behind her nickname ‘tricky’!
They take on Kazakhstan 🇰🇿 tomorrow in the XV3 series. #irishrugby #xv3series #womeninsport pic.twitter.com/rIQ6nl4xWX
— Her Sport (@HerSportDotIE) October 12, 2023
With that in mind though, Bemand, who has previously worked with England, was keen to stress that the “level of optimism is tangible” ahead of this series as they continue to form their “training identity” and team style.
He hopes the XV3 series will help to build confidence amongst his squad, although he’s well aware bigger challenges lie ahead in terms of World cup qualification.
"Essentially, the controllable we have is finishing third in the Six Nations," he says.
“This tournament, obviously our goal is to get out of WXV3 and progress forward to WXV2. That itself doesn't automatically qualify you. It could be part of the qualification pathway, but the first controllable is to finish third in the Six Nations.
"We have a great opportunity in the Six Nations in 2024, there are a couple of away games to navigate in France and England but we have the remaining fixtures in Ireland…It’s the first thing we can go for. We have this competition in which we’re going to embed a training and playing identity that suits us.”
Using this window as a way to “get the plane off the runway”, he announced his squad for the game yesterday with a clear eye to future development, but also to growing leadership experience and not shying away from the palpable link with the sevens contingent, in which Beibhinn Parsons and Eve Higgins star.
The Ireland Women's team for Friday's WXV3 opener against Kazakhstan has been named! 🟢#IrishRugby
— Irish Rugby (@IrishRugby) October 11, 2023
Capitalising on the Kazakhstan fixture as a “great opportunity” to blood new players, “nurture and develop”, Bemand is optimistic that a good start would set a winning tone for the rest of the campaign and beyond.
“In any elite environment, results can potentially become habitual,” he says, excited about the prospect adding some new faces to the scene.
“Sarah [Delaney] is very young, such a wise head on young shoulders. She’s got an enormous amount of potential, playing at hooker.
"Eimear [Corri] is a former sprinter, former winger, so exciting to see her. The first game I saw her, I turned up and saw her finish a try from 45 metres. We’re a month in and a few more training experiences, it definitely wasn't an accident so there's little bit of excitement that can be generated from what she can do in space.
"Megan [Colllis] has been part of a centralised programme, and has been biding her time and has massively earned the opportunity to come in and show us what she can do.”
Gearing up for his inaugural test as Irish manager, Bemand appears comfortable in the space of the unknown.
"There'll be an enormous amount we don’t know [about them] and will have to discover in-game,” he says.
“We have some games [footage] we can rely on, but this first game in a new competition with a new coaching group, with a new-ish team, I think most of this focus is going to be on ourselves to be honest.”
☘️ Ireland head coach Scott Bemand is looking forward to the WX3 tournament kicking off on Friday vs Kazakhstan 🇰🇿
He’s up for interview today with co captain Edel McMahon!
Press conference coverage ⬇️ , with the full story to follow on @hersportdotie later on ✍️
— Alanna Cunnane (@acunnane10) October 11, 2023
XV3 series - McMahon thriving in co captain role with Monaghan
Edel McMahon too is eagerly anticipating this kickstart to rugby fifteens, albeit in a new capacity now as co- captain.
She explains that the team really “ respected [Bemand]’s rugby CV” and that he’s “gelled very well with the squad.”
“Straight away there was a good buy-in with the way he wants us to play the game and the general culture of the group,” she says.
“It’s been a good change."
— Irish Rugby (@IrishRugby) October 10, 2023
Now the team’s skipper alongside long time friend and teammate Sam Monaghan, she describes the weight the armband carries a light one when the workload is shared.
"So far it's actually not been too bad. Me and Sam have a good relationship before this anyway, we were team-mates in Wasps and genuinely good friends as well," she says.
“When it was announced it would be a co-captaincy, I had a bit of a sigh of relief that I got to do it with Sam.
“We work well together, we have a good, honest relationship so that puts the two of us at ease and we can bounce off each other in sessions.
"In fairness, we have a player-performance group with a lot of other girls who are leaders, so it’s not felt like we had to take the role on by ourselves."
Pointing out that the good cop/bad cop duties vary depending on the time and place, McMahon insists they’re all set to go now for the XV3 series.
— Irish Rugby (@IrishRugby) September 28, 2023
"Sometimes off-pitch Sam might be bad cop and I’ll be good cop, and on-pitch vice versa!" she laughs.
"I think everyone has embraced the environment. It's been challenging for sure, but the whole experience has brought the team closer together, and people are genuinely having a bit of craic and enjoying the challenge."
Optimistic that the Dubai XV3 series will signal clean slate and a turning point for the group, both Bemand, McMahon and the entire team will be hoping the game versus Kazakhstan tomorrow indicates the first step on the journey back to success.
Ireland vs Kazakhstan in the XV3 series takes place on Friday the 13th of October 2023 at 4:30pm Irish time, with the game available to stream live on RugbyPass.