Houston on a mission

by Stephen Findlater
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Blackrick College’s Shannon Houston is set to embark on a new adventure in Irish women’s rugby as she captains the country’s Sevens team take part in their first World Series event in Atlanta next week.

With the advent of Ireland’s entry in the series, it means a new outlook for the Sevens game in Ireland with a focussed side taking part in several events the world over, taking in Brazil, China, Hong Kong, the Netherlands and France too.

It follows an eight-year career with the 15-a-side team, earning 32 caps. She was part of the Irish extended panel that won the Grand Slam last year but, on the comeback trail from injury, missed out on playing in the game.

She is now looking forward to the new challenge, taking part in a version of rugby that she describes as “addictive”.

“Initially, I got into it as something different,” she told GazetteSport. “With the World Series, I get to potentially travel to places you couldn’t really with 15. A bunch of us gave it a try and it became kind of addictive once we started and it is another way to challenge myself.”

It is a strain of rugby that the IRFU has made a serious commitment to, especially now that it has been included as an Olympic sport. To this end, the IRFU have engaged in a talent identification programme that has seen a number of athletes convert from other sports to take up rugby.

As such, there has been an adaptation process and the World Series will play a key role in seeing how far Ireland can go as they currently have little match experience under their belt with the current crop of players.

For Houston, adapting from the 15-side format is still a work in process.

“A lot of the skills are the same but the strategy is very different. I’ve been involved for the last couple of years but I am still learning every single training session and still adapting. There’s a few new girls who are maybe not from a rugby background so we are all trying to get on the same page.

“With the likes of Aisling Naughton [a former Irish Under-21 hockey international], she is a really good athlete already; great fitness, really good feet and a knowledge of games in general. Because of that, it is just about teaching them the skills, game sense and game-knowledge.

“A lot of that may not come until we play lots of games because that is where you learn most of it. Obviously, it is challenging but the players have come on a huge amount in terms of rugby in a short space of time. Now, it’s about getting game time.”

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