Two-time All-Ireland winner Vikki Wall is “ahead of schedule” in adapting to rugby sevens as she aims to make the Ireland squad for the Paris Olympics.
The Meath woman, who joined the IRFU sevens programme in August, is with the Ireland squad in Dubai for the start of the new world sevens series season this weekend – although she’s set to play in the invitational tournament as opposed to the main event as she gets used to a whole new ball game.
“She’s committed to the programme, which is great for us. She’s ahead of schedule,” said Allan Temple-Jones, Ireland women’s sevens head coach.
“It’s a massive challenge. We’ve got a fairly settled squad that have played on the world series and have played international sevens rugby for many years. It is a challenge for her, but it’s one she’s standing up to.
“While she’s competing with the girls already, we’ve got to expose her to more and more rugby. That will accelerate her ability to play on the world series.”
Wall never played any form of rugby before she signed up with the IRFU. While there are areas of the game like the breakdown and tackle that she has to get used to, Temple-Jones believes she brings her own unique assets to the sevens set-up.
“Vikki is an unbelievable athlete. She’s a big, strong, powerful girl. That’s what she brings on the pitch for us. But there’s a large element people don’t see; it’s her high-performance mindset off the pitch,” he added.
“It’s helping a lot of our youngsters grow and develop that high-performance mindset around getting stuck in and be happy to make mistakes and learn from them. There’s a lot of physical attributes she brings but an unbelievable high-performance culture she’s using to help grow and refine within our group.”
Sevens players such as captain Lucy Mulhall have previously made the transition from Gaelic football, although Wall is hoping to do it within a tight time-frame. Megan Burns says Wall has “fit right in”, but can she master the game fast enough to make the Olympic squad?
“Some people can excel and pick up the game really quickly. She’s a great athlete and nothing in my mind is ever impossible. She’ll do the work and at some stage we’ll see her out there,” Burns said. “She knows she has a bit of a disadvantage around game knowledge, but those things she can pick up. She’s been doing phenomenal so far.”
The Ireland women’s squad for next year’s Six Nations is set to have “three or four” sevens players available to play in the championship, including Béibhinn Parsons. None of the sevens players took part in the 2023 Women’s Six Nations – when Ireland finished with the wooden spoon – as the sevens squad chased qualification for the Paris Olympics, which they achieved in May. Parsons, Eve Higgins and Aoibheann Reilly were part of the Ireland 15s squad that won the WXV3 tournament in Dubai at the end of October. The trio could play for Ireland again in next year’s Women’s Six Nations.
“It’s very much a fluid scenario. Those players have played global WXV. They’re on the list to go and play in the Six Nations again, but there’s a lot of work going on behind the scenes with Scott (Bemand, Ireland women’s 15s head coach) and his team to make sure that between both programmes, there’s a lot more collaboration in developing rugby players,” Temple-Jones added.
“We’re all sitting in the same office upstairs and there’s a lot more cross-collaboration through that. It is exciting times with regards to the programmes being a lot closer.”