Ireland hooker Neve Jones has insisted that her side's return to Parma, where they failed to qualify for the 2022 World Cup, will not stir any heartbreaking memories. The Irish face Italy in the Women's Six Nations in their first game in Italy since September 2021. Despite losing both Six Nations games so far this year, Jones says Ireland is focused on the future.
"I think a lot of us are aware of it. The players who were involved in that squad when we went there the last time are aware of it, but there's lots of fantastic players who are coming through and who haven't been there," said Jones.
While Ireland beat Italy in the qualifying tournament at Stadio Sergio Lanfranchi in 2021, defeats by Spain and Scotland saw them fail to reach the World Cup for the first time since 1991. The Irish have since undergone a period of transition with Greg McWilliams succeeding Adam Griggs as head coach in late 2021.
However, the 2022 Six Nations brought further disappointment with Ireland finishing fourth. While they have opened this year's campaign with heavy reverses to Wales and France, Jones says the squad is "thriving" as they look to claim a much-needed win in Parma.
"We're going to play Italy at [their] home, and that's something really special. We're not really looking at what happened in the past. It's all about the future and the onward journey that we've got," she added.
The Italian side has also come away from their first two games without any points, and the match could prove to be a critical turning point for both teams. Jones, who plays for Premier 15s side Gloucester-Hartpury, says the squad has not dwelled on the "negative side" as they look to beat an Italian team.
"I think it's a real positive thing, especially for the women's game. You can see the numbers are growing, there are more spectators at games, and there are more people tuning into games. So, I think for players, it's really nice to see," she said.
Despite Ireland's difficulties in the Six Nations, the team's assistant coach, Hugh Hogan, remains optimistic about the future. Speaking to the Irish Times, Hogan said: "We're in a new cycle. We've got a lot of young players, and we've got a lot of players who are new to international rugby. We're looking to build towards something."
Ireland's captain, Ciara Griffin, echoed Hogan's sentiments, saying: "It's a building phase. We're building towards the World Cup. We're building towards qualification. That's our main goal, and we're taking it game by game."
While the Six Nations has been a challenging tournament for Ireland so far, Jones believes that the growing interest in the women's game is a positive sign. "For us as players, it's a hugely positive thing, and we don't really dwell on the negative side. It's just making us grow from strength to strength," she said.
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