Linda Djougang And How The Summer Tour Meant More Than Just Results And Performances

By Colman Stanley

"We built a foundation."

Regardless of the impressive of results and performances on the recent summer tour of Japan, and its historic nature - it was the first ever summer tour for the Irish women's team - this "foundation", which Linda Djougang speaks, meant more.

Irish prop Djougang, the second most experienced player on tour, spoke of the lasting nature of those few weeks. It was not solely about what was happening in the moment, but the beginning of something greater, and she spoke of her excitement at what the Six Nations will now bring.

The intimate environment of the tour, also allowed the Irish squad to familiarise themselves with each other in ways which the Irish environment had not let them previously.

"You had no place to hide. It was bonding us as players but also as friends. And you could see it even on the pitch where it sometimes felt effortless. We knew each other inside out."

We were able to tackle each other. Talk about issues that people wouldn’t even know has happened, and talk about our lives. And just little things that you don’t think is a big thing, but someone else knowing you inside out is a massive thing on the pitch.

"Even with your personality, what really triggers you, how does this person like to be communicated with, how do I get this person to switch on on the pitch.

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"And everybody is so different, and you wouldn’t know. We’ve been playing with each other for years. And it’s the little things, I wish I knew before."

First Test Win And New Caps

This new found connection between players was seen on the pitch during the first test, where Ireland ran out comfortable 27-55 winners.

The performance was littered with excellent passages of play, and satisfying scores, none more so than Aoife Doyle's first half try, which finished off a beautiful first phase move.

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A stand-out theme of the tour was the blooding of new caps, and of that there were many. The likes of Méabh Deely, Aoife Dalton, Dannah O'Brien etc. all won their first caps in the Land of the Rising Sun.

Djougang could hardly contain her jealousy at these women beginning their Irish careers in such a unique environment.

And while Djoungang admits that talking is not her style of leadership, she was there to put an arm around the newbies, and to lead them with her on pitch performances.

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"I wouldn’t be a big talker, it’s not really my style of leadership. I really perform, I want to let the younger know that whatever happens on the pitch I’m going be right there.

"You had to have your arm around them when selection doesn’t go their way. How do you pick them up again to the next training and then the next training. Because mentally that is so challenging and I feel like if you haven’t been in that position before, you wouldn’t know how it feels.

"I’m so super proud of them, they really really wore that jersey with pride. And that’s all we ask for, that the minute you wear that jersey you wear it with pride. You give it everything because boy there is someone back home who is dying to get on that flight and take that from you."

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A Lasting Legacy

The second test did not go well. Ireland lost 19-12 as they gave away a plethora of penalties, and compounded this with a slew of unforced errors.

But the environment created on the tour, and one that can and will be built on, is its lasting legacy. As Djoungang states, "environment is everything."

The environment is so different, it’s growing. Environment is everything. I think if your environment is not right, what you do on the pitch will never be right.

"So environment is a massive thing and something that we cherish, and we’re really working really hard to build an environment where any player comes in and is able to showcase their talent and is able to fit comfortably, and play with pride and happiness and confidence. And that’s really what we’re looking for."

Djougang On The Importance Of Mental Health

This interview was made possible by the mental health organisation, Tackle Your Feelings, of which Djoungang is its newest ambassador.

The rugby star is also a nurse at Tallaght Hospital and has witnessed first-hand the devastation that the COVID-19 pandemic has caused, not just in physical health but mentally as well, with patients unable to see loved ones at such difficult times.

Mental health is so so so important but is something that we don’t look after very well. Especially with COVID happening now. We have to isolate for two weeks, I’m like ‘that is so unhealthy’. As human beings we should not be isolated for two weeks, we are social.

"The damage that is doing to our mental health is huge. And I know from being in hospital, it is so hard seeing patients not having their family being there at their side when they’re going through that tough time."

SEE ALSO: Jessica Ziu Ready To Star For Ireland After Finding Her Feet In The Professional Ranks

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