Ireland coach Scott Bemand: ‘We draw a line in the sand, and we can’t go backwards from that’

New head coach takes plenty of positives from opening defeat against France

A relatively satisfied Scott Bemand has confirmed that Ireland emerged without any injuries from their 38-17 defeat by France in Le Mans, in what was an encouraging first Six Nations game for the new Irish women’s coach.

What’s more they anticipate having influential lock Sam Monaghan back in the mix for next Sunday’s crunch game against Italy at the RDS.

“I think we wanted to come here and draw a bit of a line in terms of what the performance would look like,” said Bemand after the defeat by France, in which they made 175 tackles and missed only 17 for a ratio of 91 per cent.

“First and foremost, when you come to France, you want to be hard to beat. I think the defence is starting to show what it can do and what it could possibly evolve into what it wants to be about. I think the girls hung in there for the whole game, scrapping away and under quite a bit of pressure at times. That was a bit of a standout.

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“I think 32 minutes in, it was 17-3 so we know the French get off to a fast start and they did but they didn’t score again for a good bit. Even in that period we had a bit of momentum. When we got to the areas where we’d like to play a bit more, the set-piece creaked a little bit but that’s stuff that we can work out.

“We know that Sam [Monaghan] is coming back into play, going forward so, yeah, a lot of learnings. If you’re not winning, you’re learning.”

Bemand also said the team had come through their opening game “in reasonable health”, adding: “This isn’t a one-game competition. We want to get some minutes in people. We’ve got Italy coming to our shores next week and we have to make sure we’re in fine fettle for that.”

The Irish head coach also confirmed that the change at outhalf during the interval, when Dannah O’Brien replaced Nicole Fowley, was not injury related.

“Nicole’s done a good job and been doing a good job in training for us. Dannah’s been back in full training for a couple of weeks.

It was always going to be a manage minutes scenario in game one. Half-time seemed like a good introduction. A bit of pre-plan really to give them both good minutes.”

Both the scoreline and the performance was much improved on last season’s meeting in Cork, when Ireland conceded nine tries to none in a 53-3 loss, and the team’s captain Edel McMahon commented: “Yeah, France scoring early didn’t turn the heads down. We turned the screw and got up the field.

“I think we executed our game plan quite well at times but just to touch on what Scott was saying, we weren’t clinical in our set piece and trying to exit. If you want to compare it to last year, we certainly had a game plan and we stuck to it. We get ourselves up the pitch and got two scores. We put pressure on them.”

McMahon also said the Irish team were intent on demonstrating one thing above all else, namely “that we’re competing”. She added: “We’re here to compete in the Six Nations. We’re ambitious. We can stay with teams. France are top four in the world and that we’re here to compete for the Six Nations.”

The late try by centre Aoife Dalton was a testament to the spirit of the group and, as Bemand saw it, reward for their unstinting defensive effort.

“We said that something that would show through would be the character of the group. Defence is normally a thing that shines a light on that so it’s nice to see Declan’s [Danaher] defence get one at the end, put a bit of pressure on them.

“France roll their bench and throw it around a bit, that’s always going to bring opportunities, we’ve got to be there to put them under pressure to score them.

“The character of the group since I’ve been involved has never been in question. I’m immensely proud of that. There are bits we can tidy up, bits of confidence that will continue to grow, both in the kicking game and the attacking game and the set-piece. We’ve got plenty to go at but that was always going to be the case. The key thing you want to say is that we gave a good account of ourselves in that respect.

“So, we draw a line in the sand, and we can’t go backwards from that.”

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