Women’s Rugby Feature Interview: Laura Guest – The Evening Echo – May 18 2020

Laura Guest played her part in some of Irish rugby’s most memorable moments

IN an attempt to fill the void left by the absence of live sport, RTÉ have been delving into their extensive list of archives.

Every Thursday up until the end of August, the national broadcaster will be screening memorable clashes of the past across a number of disciplines. Last week was the turn of women’s rugby and Ireland’s historic Six Nations clincher against Italy in 2013.

A native of Templebryan, near Clonakilty, Laura Guest played the final 22 minutes of that rain-drenched encounter in Milan as the Scrum Queens secured a Grand Slam for the first and only time to date.

Though it was the lowest scoring game of that year’s Championship, Guest is delighted to see it feature alongside some classic affairs in other sports.

“There was some great memories going back. It wasn’t the prettiest game of rugby in the conditions.

“It was probably the best 6-3 match I’ve ever been involved in or I’ve ever seen,” Guest remembers.

“They had Clare’s victory in the 1995 All-Ireland hurling recently. If nothing else, it has been a lovely time to look back at some of those sporting moments.

“Given everything that’s going on at the minute.”

The gruelling affair with the Azzurre isn’t the only Ireland women’s game of that era to be shown during the current lockdown.

On April 19, World Rugby’s streaming service showcased their seminal triumph at the expense of New Zealand in the 2014 World Cup. Guest enjoyed a brace of cameos off the bench as the Irish defied the odds to overcome the southern hemisphere giants.

The Black Ferns’ only previous defeat at a World Cup finals came all of 23 years earlier and they were the firmest of favourites to claim the spoils in this pool stage meeting.

“I just remember again, going into that game there was a quiet confidence within the group that we were going to beat the Black Ferns that day.

“I think when the game was over, everyone’s phone was going mad and saying it was amazing. It was a fantastic game of rugby. It was very different to the 6-3 in Milan!

“It was absolutely a great contest from both sides. It was great to look back at that actually recently.

“The WhatsApp group was flying again around the same time that was being shown.

“Lovely memories to have. It seems like a lot closer than six years ago, but that’s the joy of it.”

After captaining Munster to an interprovincial title in 2014, Guest opted to retire from all levels of rugby as a player.

However, she was appointed head coach at Cork city outfit Highfield the following July and ultimately returned to her home province in an identical role two years later.

While she entered the latter position with vast experience under her belt, Guest admits it still represented a major step up in her off-field career.

“I had coached schools and I had coached adult women’s club teams.

“The level of professionalism that goes into it, it’s another level. I think it was fantastic to be able to be exposed to that.

“I’m certainly very grateful to the branch for allowing me that opportunity. I definitely couldn’t have done it without the management group I was able to assemble.

“Maeve D’Arcy, my manager. Lorna Barry, my strength and conditioning coach. Kathryn Fahy, my physio.

“Helen Brosnan, my assistant coach last year and prior to that David Lombard.

“I just couldn’t have been more blessed with that group of people and with the group of players I got to work with as well.

“I feel very grateful to have been able to work with them.”

Having enjoyed three years at the helm of the Munster women’s team, guiding them to an interprovincial championship in her debut season, Guest is set to depart the role in order to concentrate on her day job as a school teacher at Midleton College.

It had proven to be a difficult juggling act for the 35-year-old and she feels a full-time employee of the branch is best suited to taking over the reins.

“I just feel the commitment and the level that is needed now in the provincial women’s game, to try and match the high performance of the national side, it’s kind of leaning towards somebody who has more time.

“To try and really bridge the gap between provincial and international rugby.”

There is no doubt Guest has done her utmost to aid the progression of women’s rugby at the southern province and leaves behind an ideal template for her eventual successor.

If the IRFU can overcome a major obstacle that is currently in their path, she believes a bright future also lies in wait for the international side.

“I think there’s some exciting players out there to be honest and I think they’re beginning to come through.

“I still think one of our biggest challenges with the sport is, similar to any other sport really, to try and stop losing the female participants in their late teens. To really try and get those players to transition from underage to adult rugby.

“I think there are some great players coming through to the Irish set-up. Hopefully they’re building again.

“I think they’ve got some great players in their leadership group there and they’re very well captained by Ciara Griffin. I think there’s plenty more to come in the Irish side.”

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