Women’s Six Nations: Aoife Doyle faces familiar challenge as France come to town

Winger made her Test debut in a 10-5 Six Nations loss to Les Bleus in 2015

Women’s Six Nations Championship: Ireland v France, Musgrave Park, 3.15 (Virgin Media 1)

It might be all of eight years since her last appearance against them, but as far as Aoife Doyle is concerned, the challenge Ireland face from France in the Women’s Six Nations at Musgrave Park on Saturday afternoon (kick-off 3.15pm) is much the same now as it was back then.

When Les Bleus paid a visit to Ashbourne RFC on February 13th, 2015, Ireland were on course for a famous win until a late flourish propelled their opponents towards a 10-5 success. Although still a teenager, Doyle made her Test debut that night as part of a back three that included Alison Miller and current Ireland assistant coach Niamh Briggs.

France came into that championship on the back of claiming third spot at the 2014 World Cup. They achieved another bronze finish at last year’s delayed finals in New Zealand, and the style of rugby that Doyle encountered in her previous outing against the French is similar to what she expects in Cork later on Saturday.


This helps to make them a formidable force, though Doyle feels Ireland will be in a good position to counteract a side that are jointly coached by Gaëlle Mignot and David Ortiz.

“France love to play and they have a massive kicking game. That’s also a positive for us because it gives our backs a chance to counter-attack and have the ball in their hand. The more a team kicks to you, the more attacking opportunities that you have,” Doyle said.

“That’s something we’re well aware of against France. Also, the pace and speed that they have in the back-three. We’re hoping to match that ourselves. We know what to expect.”

At the end of that maiden campaign with Ireland in 2015, Doyle picked up a Six Nations winners’ medal (under the guidance of the late Tom Tierney, her fellow Limerick native) as a defeat to Italy and an inferior scoring difference saw France being pipped to the championship post.

The Railway Union back subsequently transitioned into the IRFU’s Sevens programme, however, and didn’t return to the 15s set-up until 2020. Either side of her re-emergence to the latter code, Ireland have recorded just one win from seven encounters with France – including a pool stage reversal at the 2017 World Cup in UCD.

While she only has 13 international caps in the 15-a-side game, Doyle is the most experienced player in the Irish back line for Saturday’s contest, with the remaining six all having made their bows within the past 12 months.

Following their cameo roles in last weekend’s 31-5 defeat to Wales in Cardiff, Vicky Irwin and Dannah O’Brien have been drafted into the starting line-up in place of Enya Breen (who has been ruled out for the remainder of the Championship through injury) and Nicole Cronin.

Cronin is expected to provide cover at both outhalf and scrumhalf, while there is also a recall to the bench for Lauren Delany, who made her international debut against the USA in November 2018 and will be hoping to pick up her 19th cap overall.

Team captain Nichola Fryday was an unused replacement when Ireland last defeated France in the 2017 Six Nations, and she is the only returning Irish player to their match day squad a little over six years later.

By contrast, France have four players who featured on that day within their 23 – Marine Ménager, Annaëlle Deshayes, Audrey Forlani and Jessy Trémoulière – as well as many others who are capable of causing damage to an Irish side that comes into this game as clear outsiders.

IRELAND: M Deely; A Doyle, A Dalton, V Irwin, N Behan; D O’Brien, M Scuffil-McCabe; L Djougang, N Jones, C Haney; N Fryday, S Monaghan; D Wall, G Moore, D Nic a Bháird. Replacements: C Nielson, S McGrath, K Buggy, H O’Connor, B Hogan, N Cronin, A McGann, L Delany.

FRANCE: M Bourgeois; C Banet, M Ménager, G Vernier, C Boujard; C Arbez, P Bourdon; A Deshayes, A Sochat, C Joyeux; M Feleu, A Forlani; A Berthoumieu, E Gros, C Escudero. Replacements: E Riffonneau, C Lindelauf, A Khalfaoui, M Picut, G Hermet, A Chambon, J Trémoulière, M Dupouy.