As I drove home from Dublin last Sunday evening I think I felt almost as relieved as the players did at the final whistle. It's a curious position I find myself in at times, analysing players' performances and the collective performance and result of the team.

I have plenty of opinions on most things and usually have no problem voicing them. On Sunday, I wanted the women’s team to win so much that I felt that same nervous energy I had felt for the 10 years that I lined out for Ireland.

What was so different this time to the previous two seasons, you may ask? Well for me it was a case of a much needed, almost essential, victory. A victory that was needed to draw a line in the sand and banish the last two seasons to the history books.

A win that hopefully showed an evolution of sorts and a vision for the future. 

As analysts we long to return to the days of discussing fine margins and technical imperfections as opposed to the general state of play and state of the women’s game in Ireland. One swallow certainly does not make a summer and one victory will not make this squad however a defeat last Sunday would have been a disaster.

The IRFU and the sounds coming from within the camp talk of progress, improved facilities, improved pathways, increased time together and an emphasis on skills and conditioning.

On Sunday, the opening 20 minutes certainly spoke volumes and backed up the talk. It was evident that the skillset had improved considerably, the team showing increased efficiencies in all aspects of the game. 

Cliodhna Moloney was exceptional until her early departure and Ellen Murphy moved the ball with pace and direction. Unfortunately when Moloney went off the scrum began to creak and the set piece was nowhere near as composed or effective as it was last season.

It is a pity that with the additions to the coaching ticket, Mike Ross is no longer involved for his expertise in this area. 

The second half brought a much improved Scotland team who changed tack and took Ireland on up front and down the middle rather than trying to outflank them. 

Beibhinn Parsons on her way to scoring her wonder try

Niamh Briggs rightly identified the Irish defensive tactic of the banana defence early in the game as we watched on. There could have been more than one intercept, such was the reading of the Scottish attack by both Aoife Doyle and the effervescent Beibhinn Parsons on the wings. Parsons read, intercept and finish will be one to be watched for the ages.

Another telling thing for me was the post-match fitness session carried out by the subs. I could be wrong but I had never witnessed that after any previous Ireland Women's matches. It certainly shows an encouraging shift in emphasis. 

On Sunday, they will welcome Wales to Energia Park. This is a Welsh team going through some issues of its own, as last year's head coach Rowland Phillips stepped away in the Autumn and their captain Carys Phillips is not involved.

They suffered a 15-19 defeat at home last weekend to an Italian side without their talismanic full-back Manuela Forlan. Perhaps key for Wales this weekend is the return of Manon Johnes and Alisha Butchers, both back-rows very aggressive with or without the ball. 

The Welsh will gain hope from the defeat they inflicted on this Irish side in November, stealing the game at the death. That memory will also serve as a sharp reminder to the girls in green and hopefully focus the minds and bodies for the full 80 minutes.

The swing in penalties against (16 total in the match) in the second half last week was enormous and should it be the same this week the home side will be in trouble. Wales only conceded eight penalties last weekend and had the Italians under pressure at scrum time. A second victory is both achievable and necessary to build momentum. 

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The same could definitely be said for the men’s team when they run out against the current Grand Slam champions today.

They certainly needed the victory against Scotland almost as much as the women but for different reasons. Here the story is not so much one of evolution but of change; change of emphasis, change of atmosphere, change of coaching staff and changeover of players.

One such player is the hugely impressive Caelan Doris, whose debut ended way too early. Thankfully, the emphasis on HIA and correct procedures is in place and I have no doubt we will see him soon again in the green jersey and for many years to come.

His unavailability opens the door for the equally impressive (but with a slightly different skillset) Max Deegan, who will be bouncing up and down on the bench waiting for his chance to shine. The Munster blood and back-row mentality in me was delighted to see CJ Stander back to his barnstorming best, and Peter O’Mahony play like the man possessed that we in Munster know and love.

Van der Flier against Tipuric could be pivotal

They, and Van der Flier, will have their work cut out on Saturday against the equally well balanced and experienced Wainwright, Tipuric and Faletau. 

You are going to think I write only of back-row battles (last week it was Caplice v Konkel) but this is going to be an absolute battle at the breakdown between Tipuric and Van der Flier, two of the best true openside flankers in the northern hemisphere.

Wales will have learned little from their 42-0 victory last weekend however will probably have focused on rejuvenating the scrum during the week. The Irish pack will no doubt have had a renewed focus on that area too. 

So both our senior teams will head into their battles with Wales with a renewed sense of self belief. The narrow margins on which victory was secured last weekend will keep the nation on edge and hopefully come Sunday evening both teams will be a step further down their respective roads, either way another chapter will be written. 

Finally, for those interested, Bill and his dad had a great trip to the Aviva; a chicken fillet role replaced the Tipperary sandwiches and the match-day programme is still under the pillow.

Follow Ireland v Wales (men kick-off 2.15pm Saturday, women 1pm Sunday) via our live blogs on and the News Now app. Listen to live commentary of the men's game on RTÉ Radio 1's Saturday Sport, or watch the women's game live on RTÉ2. Highlights of both games on Against the Head, Monday at 8pm on RTÉ2 and RTÉ Player.