Return of Niamh Briggs can help Ireland kick on towards Triple Crown
Fullback’s accuracy could be crucial as Wales seek to bounce back from defeat to Italy
Claire Molloy, Ireland’s openside flanker, has been a constant factor at the breakdown. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho.
Before they know it a second successive Triple Crown could be on offer to Fiona Coghlan’s band of sisters. The best of times then.
The Welsh team that for long stretches looked certain to beat them last season was nowhere to be found in the 12-11 home defeat to Italy in this year’s first round of matches.
In contrast, Ireland obliterated a very poor Scottish outfit to the tune of 59-0, and with Niamh Briggs trusty boot returning to the backfield and the spirited Larissa Muldoon re-forming the all-Donegal halfback partnership with Nora Stapleton, Philip Doyle fields an even stronger outfit than seven days previously.
What became apparent in the dismissal of Scotland was that the centre pairing of Jenny Murphy and Lynne Cantwell might just be the best in the women’s game at present. It’s a female version of Jamie Roberts and Brian O’Driscoll (as seen on the 2009 Lions tour and so cruelly denied us in 2013).
Of course, the set piece excellence of Doyle’s side is what makes them what they are – winners – with Sophie Spence’s sensational form in all facets of play so important while openside flanker Claire Molloy’s nuisance rating never decreases.
Wales have reacted to the opening round defeat with Rachel Taylor returning at number eight, Shona Powell comes into the secondrow and Rebecca de Filippo will seek to stymie the interplay of Murphy and Cantwell.
But regardless of the elements or an upsurge in Wales’ performance, this should be another building block towards the daunting task that follows on February 22nd. The chance to face England at Twickenham will prove exciting but equally a mammoth challenge.
That this is their last outing at Ashbourne RFC should add further fuel to their motivational fire as the Italy game marks the first women’s international at the Aviva stadium.
About time too.
For those joining the party late, along with the aforementioned players, Coghlan’s contributions require closer inspection of the darker corners of the pitch. But her leadership needs to be seen to be truly admired.
The return of Briggs though is the best news of all. Cursed by injury since kicking the penalty to secure the championship title in Parabiago last March, that she is relieving Stapleton and Murphy of the kicking duties can only be of benefit to the collective.
Don’t expect another 11-try exhibition but a two-score victory is certainly within their capabilities before the spotlight shines on them in the bigger arenas.