From the moment Scott Bemand was appointed Ireland coach he has stressed the importance of forging a winning mentality in a group that appeared sapped of confidence.
WXV 3 was always going to be a crucial part of that process and if you wanted proof that Bemand and his players are making progress then it arrived in the decisive moments of their title-clinching 15-13 defeat of Spain on Saturday.
Ireland had trudged off at half-time of the decider at The Sevens Stadium in Dubai trailing 13-3 and with Linda Djougang recently sent to the sin-bin.
Following comfortable victories against Kazakhstan and Colombia – won by an aggregate score of 173-3 – the new Irish set-up found itself with their collective backs against the wall for the first time.
Yet, this was exactly the type of challenge they had craved, and as she looked around at her team-mates in the changing room, co-captain Sam Monaghan told them that she “100 per cent, wholeheartedly believed we were going to win that match”.
That conviction was again in evidence as the match ticked towards its final 10 minutes. Presented with a kickable penalty, Monaghan instead made the call to go to the corner, and from the resulting lineout Neve Jones scored what proved to be the title-winning try.
“It's something we practise a lot,” Monaghan said after the match. “Going direct is dangerous and I think that was the point of the game.
“We were building momentum and you could see they were on their knees. They'd made a few substitutions [and] on the maul beforehand, you know, they didn't want it.”
Bemand added: “Sam's probably playing it fairly coy. She made some decisions that I think had a huge impact on the game.
“So, if we had kicked that and gone 13-all, there's still minutes left to play, we've been struggling to get out of our half and is that a potential momentum changer for the Spanish?
“But keeping the foot on the throat, so to speak, I think it allowed the group to play the game where they needed to. And actually, I think being positive is what this group is trying to become, trying to make positive decisions on the pitch that can impact the game.”
Bemand and Monaghan will hope they can maintain that momentum, and their positive intent, as they build towards the start of the TikTok Women’s Six Nations 2024.
France will certainly provide a stern examination of Ireland’s progress when they run out for the opening match of the Championship on 23 March.
But with their success in Dubai meaning that Europe will have three places in WXV 2 2024, Ireland will be determined to ensure they fill one of those spots.
“In terms of the perfect performance, there's always bits to go at, but I think the intent was perfect [in Dubai],” Bemand said.
“There's bits of the game that we know we're going to need, we call it variety and [we] can maybe sharpen the knife in slightly different ways against different opponents.
“That wasn't the ambition from this tournament. This tournament was all about bringing a group together, changing the mindset and trying to create something to go after.
“So, there'll be bits of the game that we can add layers to. How we test those skills under pressure, and a variety of pressure, will probably be the next thing.
“We go into a Six Nations; we know we've got some big challenges. We know different teams are investing in their programmes so they're going to come with slightly different challenges of their own.
“But I think probably the biggest one for me is being able to grind our way through a bit of adversity for this one and create winning habits.”
Back in the changing room at The Sevens and Monaghan and co-captain Edel McMahon told their winning team-mates that they were “proud of every single player” for their achievement in WXV 3.
“Not only [those] on the pitch, but back in Ireland as well that got us to this point,” Monaghan added. “The girls at home, the injured girls that didn't get selected and everyone here, the staff. Just the effort that everyone's put in has been absolutely amazing.”