Geraldine Kieran sat down with Ireland Women’s forward coach Peter Bracken to reflect on the 2014 Rugby World Cup tournament now that the dust has settled.
In a wonderfully refreshing interview Peter, discussed at length the effort, time and work that goes into the Ireland Women’s set up and the process of training and preparation leading up to the tournament. Geraldine was eager to see what Peter thought of the overall standard of rugby within the summer tournament.
“A brilliant tournament, the quality of rugby played at the tournament was exceptional. For ourselves at the end of the tournament we ended up fourth best team in a World Cup.
“For all involved, players and management, it was a great result. The main aim going out there was to place ourselves sixth and we ended up fourth!”
Peter Bracken is originally from Tullamore, and started his rugby days at Tullamore RFC and St. Andrew’s College, Dublin. Professionally he has lined out for Munster, Connacht and London Wasps. While at Wasps he won a Heineken Cup medal in 2007. The rugby union prop would, to his surprise, go one to become a scrimmaging specialist or ‘scrum geek’ which eventually lead to his role as forwards coach.
A tournament of Irish Firsts
The Ireland Women’s team had a fantastic campaign which saw them become the first senior Irish side to beat New Zealand, the win was historic but more importantly the performance was outstanding. Peter broke down just why the pack and squad were so highly effective in shutting down a dominant Silver Fern side.
“We had come up with a game plan, all you can do is come up with the best plan to beat the opposition and then it’s up to the girls to go do it! They did exactly what we had planned to do, and they did it exceptionally well.
“You find the one or two little weaknesses in your opposition and you exploit it, as with pretty much every pack we played against they tend to be bigger and stronger.
“That New Zealand pack was bigger, heavier and stronger than us. So at line out, scrum and maul wise we had to be technically superior. The Silver ferns scrummage quite high and it suits us to go low & we tried to disrupt as much as we could. The forward pack really laid the platform that day.”
Ireland sent the Silver Ferns packing with a win on a scoreline of 17-14, and marched into the World Cup semi-final. Unfortunately, it was not to be. When asked what exactly went wrong when Ireland faced off against the English roses, Peter said the following:
“England were the best in the tournament, they proved it! Whoever they were playing that day, they were just a juggernaut. They are the best team in the world and have been since the last World Cup. That was the best performance they have had yet! It was a compliment to the girls how England came out and attacked that game.”
“You come up with a plan and try to counteract the pack, the girls did as they were asked but when you come up against a bigger, stronger pack who are technically just as good as you it’s going to be a hard day at the office.”
Fitness & Preparation
The level of fitness exhibited by the Irish ladies was phenomenal. These ladies are not professional athletes. They most certainly train, behave and perform as if they are but the reality is all their preparation on field and in the gym must be done in addition to a normal fifty-sixty hour work week.
“The girls’ fitness was exceptional in the competition; Marian Earls took charge of that over the past year and a half. Pretty much every team we play against are going to bigger and stronger than us.
“Basically our fitness, cores skills and agility has to be better in order to beat these teams and to play the style of rugby we want to play which is a nice style of game in all aspects, be it kicking game or the set pieces.”
The girls trained six to eight sessions a week. World cup preparation started three months previous to the tournament, with special camps being held in Johnston House in Enfield. Weekend sessions consisted of video analysis, two pitch sessions over two days then back to individuals’ local club for normal duty. In addition to this Marian would take the girls for extra strength or fitness a week.
The key question for Irish Women’s rugby is; where to go to next?
With the game rapidly developing across the country from youths right up to senior ladies rugby, what can be done to ensure that the efforts of the 2014 squad continue and are maintained by the mew breed of up and coming recruits.
“It should be that girls can start young and play rugby the same as lads at younger age and develop from there! It starts from grass roots upwards.”
On an international level the side will lose their ever dedicated head coach Philip Doyle who committed himself for twenty years to Women’s Rugby. In addition to this several key senior players have also retired.
“There will most definitely be a bit of a rebuilding phase with a few experienced ladies retiring. It will take a bit of time to adjust. After the grand slam win last year & the cup, women’s rugby is coming away from being a niche sport. It will become a more popular sport for woman to want to play, if the powers that be push it forward.”
With changes ringing in, Peter Bracken is unsure if he will still be part of the overall vision of Women’s Rugby but if the incoming coach will have him, he will gladly continue.
“I never really thought I’d want to coach but once I got stuck I really enjoyed it. Philip asked me in the 2013 season, I was only coaching a year and all of a sudden involved with an international set-up. It’s easier when you are working with quality players who want to work, are focused.
“I was a professional rugby player; it was always an ambition to play in a World Cup. As a professional player I’m proud of what I achieved but I never got a full Irish cap nor participated in a World Cup even though I was part of a World Cup training squad. So, it was a privilege to be involved in that environment. It was nice to get a glimpse back again even from a coaching view.”
Geraldine Kieran, Pundit Arena.
By Geraldine Kieran