‘It’s amazing how extremely different they are’ – Higgins getting to grips with switch from 7s to 15s rugby

THE IMPORTANCE OF having a strong role model isn’t lost on Eve Higgins.

As a young player with dreams of one day representing Ireland, Friday night trips to Ashbourne were about as exciting as life could get. It was there where Higgins would watch the likes of Niamh Briggs, Lynne Cantwell, and her own personal hero, Fiona Coughlan, as Ireland landed that famous 2013 Six Nations title.

Those nights lit a fuse in Higgins.

“Fiona Coghlan, the captain at the time, I really looked up to her,” Higgins explains.

“There was a picture that went around (of Higgins with Coghlan). I was lucky enough that my aunt happens to work in the same school as her.

“So one day after school, she picked me up and brought me across the road in Lucan to meet her. It’s no lie, I looked up to Fiona Coughlan growing up, and to see them winning the Grand Slam… I’ve been fortunate enough to also have some conversations with her and have her sending messages.

“Growing up Fiona was a role model to me, (now) I can go to her for conversations and stuff like that.”

Higgins is now a full Irish international herself, making her 15s debut against Wales in Ireland’s opening fixture of the 2021 Six Nations and keeping her starting spot for the games against France and Italy.

She’s speaking today to help launch Canterbury and the IRFU’s ‘Give It A Try’ campaign, which aims to get more girls between the ages of 8 and 14 involved in the sport.

When the topic of role models comes up, Coghlan is the notable example, but Higgins also points to strong influences in her life from closer to home.

“The amount of times I’ve gone in to say goodnight to my parents at night, and my Dad would give me a little speech, about focusing on myself and little inspirational things. I don’t think he realised it at the time, but they definitely stuck with me. I can always go to him for a chat.

“My parents were the ones that dropped me off and picked me up for training and matches, every week. Mum would drop me off for training on the Saturday morning and they’d both come to the matches on Sundays.”

Higgins helped launch Canterbury and the IRFU’s ‘Give It A Try’ programme.

She mentions this to underline the important role parents have to play in getting more young girls playing rugby.

“In my experience, my Dad had to send emails to clubs all around Dublin and the province to see what teams had girls teams playing.

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“If it wasn’t for my Dad and Mum knowing how much I loved this sport, who knows if I would have kept playing through my youth?

“They’ve been there for every single step.”

Like many of her teammates, Higgins’ path to Adam Griggs 15s squad came after a number of years in the Sevens programme. 

The 20 training camps that were held in the build-up to this year’s Six Nations helped her get a feel of what international 15s rugby would be like, but the Ireland centre admits she didn’t get a true appreciation of the difference between the two codes until she was out there on the pitch in a competitive match setting.

“Especially defensively, it’s very different,” she says.

“You want to close down the space, in 15s you have the last player coming in in fullback, whereas in Sevens you look at the pitch as you have that much space to stop them. In 15s you don’t want to give away territory at all. So defensively it was a big difference in mindset.

Higgins, 21, was one of five of new faces in Griggs’ squad during the Six Nations. Fellow Sevens star Amee-Leigh Murphy Crowe also made her first foray into international 15s, as did Emily Lane, Grace Moore, and out-half Stacey Flood, who impressed as Ireland’s starting No 10 against Italy last Saturday.

And Higgins believes there is much more to come Flood, her Railway Union clubmate.

“With Sevens she is one of the best in the world and hopefully now with 15s, you can see how she is transitioning, she is just getting better in every single game. I’m just really looking forward to seeing more games and more from her.

“I went to Railway Union when I was 14 and Stacey I think was 17. She had only kind of started playing rugby then, she was only a few months in. We got to play one youth game together before she was over 18.

“When I was brought into the Sevens camp I was training away with her. She is definitely someone I looked up to when I was in Railway at the time. She had just started playing rugby and then she was travelling the world with Sevens. It was something I wanted to do, representing my country.

“Stacey is the type of player that will look the playbook a thousand times over, ask the questions and isn’t shy asking the questions. She is someone who grows in every single match she plays and she improves.

“She is a great player and I’m looking forward to seeing her with even more games under her belt.”

Canterbury and the IRFU have launched this year’s nationwide Give It A Try programme – a rugby programme for girls aged 8 to 14 to learn how to play rugby in a safe and fun environment. Clubs can register at http://www.irishrugby.ie/giveitatry

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