Colm Kinsella talks to Limerick’s Joy Neville about her role in the Irish women’s rugby team that beat England last weekend.
IT’S always darkest before the dawn. As one of the most capped players on the Irish women’s rugby team, Limerick-born back-row Joy Neville experienced her fair share of bad days against England before Saturday’s stunning victory over the world’s top ranked side.
UL-Bohemian star Neville has been an Irish international for more than a decade and her career has corresponded with the gradual rise of women’s rugby to their current dizzy heights. However, before last weekend’s terrific 25-0 Six Nations Championship win over the English at Ashbourne, there were some dark days. Indeed, 2012 Grand Slam champions England had beaten Ireland in all 17 previous clashes in Women’s internationals before last weekend.
Joy Neville explained: “The likes of myself Lynne Cantwell and Fiona Coghlan who have been there for over a decade. At the outset, we hadn’t accommodation paid for. If you trained in Dublin you’d ring someone living up there and ask them if you could kip on the ground in their place. When we trained in Limerick, they’d ring us. We used to chip in for lunch. It is so much more professional now. The supports we have now and the way we are treated is so much better.
“Gone are the days when we played England and lost 76-0. It was always like a case of they’d score, you’s kick off, they’d get the ball back and score again. You’d kick off again and the same thing would happen, they’d score.
“Every year you could see the gap between the sides was being bridged to the last two years and being extremely competitive against England. The last few minutes would let us down, lack of concentration or fitness.
“We went into Saturday’s game very confident in our ability to beat them, but obviously if you asked me whether I through we would beat them so comprehensively, 25-0, I probably would not have believed it. But I did feel we had a big chance of winning. To keep them scoreless which hasn’t been done since 2004, I am over-the-moon, to be honest.
“It still hasn’t properly sank in yet, I suppose. It is a day I will never forget to be honest.
“They are missing some players to the England 7s squad at the moment. In saying that, their pack was pretty much full strength, bar a couple of back rows. They had well over 100 caps in the front row and in the second row.”
Before Saturday, England had lost just one of their previous 39 Six Nations fixtures, a one-point defeat to Wales in 2009. They had throttled Scotland 76-0 in their opening round Six Nations fixture this season.
Saturday’s historic success provides an opportunity for the Irish side - which also feature UL-Bohs players in tryscorer Niamh Briggs, captain Fiona Coghlan, Limerick woman Gillian Bourke, as well as replacements Fiona Hayes and Niamh Kavanagh - with an opportunity to complete a Triple Crown, Grand Slam and Six Nations Championship success. Ireland narrowly beat Wales in their opening Six Nations fixture this season.
Next up for the Irish Womens’ side is a crucial Triple Crown decider against Scotland at Lasswade on Saturday, February 23.
Twenty nine-year-old Joy Neville said: “I have had so many nice e-mails since the win on Saturday, tweets and facebook messages saying how inspirational the win was for them.
“Women’s rugby has been developing over the past few years, but to beat the likes of England, will be extremely beneficial to the development of the game here. I just hope the profile of the game is heightened by this win.
“Obviously we play Scotland the weekend after next, with the Triple Crown at stake for us. Without being negative I’m not sure I ever felt we would get that chance with England being so strong.
“We could match up with them for 40 or 60 minutes, but in the remainder of the game, their superior fitness would tell. That is something we have worked on. We have progressed.
“To be going for the Triple Crown, I am in shock, really. It is going to be a big challenge against Scotland, even though they haven’t had the best of starts to their campaigns.
“Our expectations have risen throughout the years. For me, I have always had high expectations even when we were being hockeyed by the likes of England. It is going to be a big challenge facing Scotland and to come out winning the Grand Slam and Six Nations. Scotland is going to be our focus now.
“Then we can concentrate on the next game and the one after that. It would means everything to me to win the Six Nations. I would be wary that if we think too far ahead, there is a danger we could get complacent. Scotland is the next big challenge.
“It’s great we have such a big UL-Bohs representation in the squad. And Lynne Cantwell, whose now with Richmond/Exiles, used to be UL-Bohs. It is also great for Limerick. Shannon also flew the flag before they got relegated.
“France and England have already qualified for the World Cup. If we beat Scotland, we will have pretty much qualified for it too.”