Trinity Sport scholarship student and Ireland scrum half Kathryn Dane admitted there was a massive sense of relief within the Ireland Women’s Rugby squad when they finally crossed the white line last Saturday for their return to Women’s Six Nations action. After nearly six months without a competitive fixture, the Ireland women were back with a bang against Wales, running in seven tries in a 45-0 win in Cardiff. Having had so much time to prepare for the game at the IRFU High Performance Centre in Blanchardstown, Dane was pleased to see it all come together during their Pool B opener.

“The strength and conditioning part of our game has definitely doubled if not tripled since last year’s Six Nations – just because we’ve had so much time to work on it.” Explained Dane. “Especially building up our robustness and physical resilience. I think as a smaller nation compared to the other countries, we’ve definitely worked on that and it’ll stand to us throughout the Six Nations championship.”

She continued, “In terms of our attack and defence, we’ve had Adam Griggs as our attack coach and Kieran Hallett as our defence coach, really working on training us at an intensity that’s above match intensity so that we can perform at that really high tempo. In that sense, our scale execution, our decision making, our intuition and instincts around the field have improved and that showed on the pitch.”

Like most people in the past twelve months, Dane has had to readjust her routine substantially. She was used to playing rugby at three levels – club, provincial and international – she was forced to concentrate on individual training when the sporting world was ground to a halt last March. Nonetheless, she has kept busy during a tricky period, between working with Leinster Rugby’s Academy squad as part of a physiotherapy internship and undertaking a PhD at Trinity College Dublin that investigates injuries to tackling in women’s rugby.

Whilst still in the early stages of her PhD, it is proving to be a fascinating process for Dane – given how closely it connects to her own personal journey as a rugby player. Dane explained, “it’s looking at the safety and optimal tackle outcomes in Women’s rugby. Ultimately the research will help key stakeholders like the referees, coaches, and policy makers, to make the game safer for female rugby players. I’m doing a bit of a literature review now and we’re finding that there’s very little out there in the women’s game. A lot of it has been informed by research from men’s data. Obviously, we’re not just small men, so it would be a really good start to profile the women’s game itself and see if there’s any differences or comparisons.”

England and France are expected to contest the battle for the top spot in the championship, but Kathryn is unconcerned about the speculation that those two teams could dominate the tournament, and is hopeful Ireland will be able to pull off a surprise result during the tournament. “It is an unpredictable environment at the minute, and in the Six Nations we are going in to win each game if we can, that will set us up lovely for the World Cup qualifiers and make sure we are prepared. Hopefully we will be going into them on the back of a very successful Six Nations campaign.”

Ireland take on France in the third round of the 2021 Women’s Six Nations on Saturday, 17th April at Energia Park, kick off at 14:15. Watch it live on RTE Two and the RTE player.