The odds might be firmly stacked against them, but Ireland women’s backrow Hannah O’Connor is adamant her side aren’t approaching Saturday’s Six Nations encounter with France at Musgrave Park (kick-off 3.15pm) as a damage limitation exercise.
Following a 31-5 defeat to Wales in the opening round of the Championship at Cardiff Arms Park, Greg McWilliams’ outfit will enter this weekend’s duel as massive underdogs. This would most likely have been the case regardless of how the Welsh game went, however, as Ireland have recorded just three wins and one draw from 30 previous encounters with Les Bleues.
Team captain Nichola Fryday was an unused replacement when Ireland last tasted victory over the French in 2017, while current assistant coach Niamh Briggs was a key figure in triumphs at the expense of their forthcoming opponents in 2009 and 2013. Although the gap between the two teams has widened since those meetings, O’Connor isn’t interested in simply keeping the score down in Cork on Saturday.
“We are not playing a Six Nations match to have that attitude. Our squad is full of youth and exuberance with a mix of senior people. There’s a beautiful balance, but we’re not in this competition to make up the numbers or step off the gas as we go into this week,” O’Connor said at the IRFU’s High Performance Centre yesterday.
Several players in the current squad featured in Musgrave Park last year for a resounding round three triumph over Italy, and there is a man within the Irish coaching staff who knows the venue like the back of his hand.
During an eight-year spell with Munster in which he won two Celtic Leagues and a Heineken Cup, Tipperary native Denis Fogarty lined out at the Leeside venue on numerous occasions. Although there were several issues around the Irish set-piece in their reversal to Wales, O’Connor can’t speak highly enough of her scrum coach – whose brother John fulfils the same role with the men’s national team.
“He has been great. Denis has the passion for the scrum. If we could do scrums all day, every day, Denis would be delighted! He’s a much-loved character among the group as well as a really, really good coach.
“He’s brought a new kind outlook on it for us. To have him in with us and be able to bring those expertise has been hugely beneficial. For not just the front-row, but for the scrum as a whole.”
Alongside O’Connor for yesterday’s press conference was Carlow teenage prodigy Dannah O’Brien. After making her debut in last summer’s tour of Japan (scoring 12 points in the first of two tests against the Sakura Fifteen), she appeared as a 48th-minute replacement for her Six Nations bow in Cardiff last Saturday.
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Having helped to improve matters on the pitch upon her arrival, O’Brien is in contention for a starting berth against France. Given she has been training full-time at the HPC since earning a professional contract with the IRFU last November, the 19-year-old believes she is ready to make the step up into the number 10 jersey.
“The last six months I’ve kind of been preparing for these games. I think the team backs me and I feel comfortable playing in that position. If that is the case, I think I am ready for it. I think we’ve really pushed standards in training since the start of the campaign,” O’Brien said.
“That obviously helps massively. Everything we do is at a high intensity at training. It kind of prepares you for the high pressure in the games.”