Northern Ireland predictably lost their friendly against Australia in wintry Bath on Friday but the 91-37 defeat didn’t leave the girls in green too downhearted.
Taking on the world champions was always going to be a learning exercise and it was unsurprising that Gemma Gibney’s side struggled to cope early on against a full-time team with a huge height advantage.
But they had the tenacity, composure and ability to adjust and grow into the match rather than being swept away by the awesome Aussies, who got a worthwhile work-out ahead of their Test series against England.
Yesterday showed that Northern Ireland are actually a decent team but desperately need more exposure at international level, where a lack of fixtures is limiting their growth.
The failure to arrange more matches is also threatening the team’s participation in next year’s Commonwealth Games as they could drop down the world rankings by default and thus miss out on qualification.
Preparations for the match had been disrupted by the late cry-off of defender Frances Campbell due to injury, a disturbed night in their hostel and snow which wreaked havoc with travelling to the venue.
It got even tougher on court but this was exactly the sort of searching examination which coach Jill McIntosh and her players had been wanting as Northern Ireland seek to build on the impressive progress of recent years.
Vice-captain Hannah Irvine’s hamstring strain restricted her involvement to the first two periods but that freed up more time for fringe figures, including teenage rJenna Bowman.