Sam Monaghan confident Ireland can claim first win of Six Nations campaign against Wales

Captain sees positives from two defeats and believes Clíodhna Moloney’s return will boost squad for third Test

Six Nations: Ireland v Wales, Musgrave Park (4.45pm, live on Virgin Media)

Sam Monaghan has seen the incremental improvements through the first two matches of the Six Nations Championship and is confident that if that trajectory continues against Wales, Ireland can claim a first victory in this season’s tournament.

Monaghan missed the defeat to France as she was recovering from concussion issues but returned to captain the team against Italy in the RDS, a tussle that ended in a narrow 27-21 loss. She explained: “France was a big defensive game; we fired a lot of shots.

“We knew going away to France [that it’s] not an easy place to go and play but we fronted up defensively. I thought our attack improved a lot against Italy. Our execution [in terms of the final pass] let us down, especially in their 22. We’d opportunities to score that we missed.

“But from both games I’ve seen massive improvements. The training we put in [last week and this], we built off the Italy game, we did a lot of maul defence work. It wasn’t going to happen overnight.


“Even off the progress we’ve made from the WXV [tournament] to the Six Nations we are getting better and better every week. That’s all we can ask for, if we improve from the week before we are going in the right direction.”

It’s a fair summation and a benchmark for today’s game in Cork. The hoopla surrounding Clíodhna Moloney’s return to the Ireland squad should settle on the reintegration of a good player rather than remaining a giddy distraction ahead of today’s game.

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Rumours that she was being courted to swap countries by England head coach John Mitchell are no longer relevant, so Moloney’s focus can now be exclusively directed to on-pitch matters, a situation she’ll no doubt appreciate. Monaghan said: “Personally I am delighted for Clíodhna. I’ve played with her at Wasps.

“She is probably part of the reason I’m in this set-up. I learned so much from her experience. She’s great to play with, not so great to play against. The experience she’ll bring into this squad is class. She’s got this dog-like behaviour which you need on the pitch. Yeah, it’s great to have her in. It’s been a great camp in the last couple of days.”

That positivity will hopefully translate to improved performance, particularly in passing and handling, facets of the game that cost Ireland a couple of tries against Italy. It’s easy to appreciate how much damage Béibhinn Parsons will do given a modicum of space; the ball often arrived with four Italian defenders at the RDS. That needs to change.

Dannah O’Brien, Enya Breen and Eve Higgins must make smart decisions, underpinned by slick, accurate handling, something the Italians managed, to an appreciably higher level, when it came to their back play.

Ireland will also need to improve their breakdown work, too many balls were pilfered last time out, something that Irish defence coach Declan Danaher mentioned when discussing general improvement from the RDS match. He said: “Against Italy we created a lot of chances, but we turned over a fair bit of ball in the contact area.

“We know Wales will come after our breakdown, come hard at us there. The girls are aware we’ve got to be hot on that from minute one. They’ve got players in their backrow and across the field that can carry the ball pretty quick. It will be a battle at the breakdown, can we keep hold of it, while they try to hunt and turn our ball over?”

Wales also lost their opening two matches, a narrow defeat to Scotland, and then a 46-10 thumping by England after a bright opening 20 minutes to that game. Head coach Ioan Cunningham has made four changes, one of which is the return of the outstanding wing Jaz Joyce. Both teams are looking for similar trace elements in performance, greater accuracy and being more clinical.

Monaghan knows the opposition firsthand from the club game in England. She said: “I think last year, when we played them, they have a quite cohesive side. They are a bigger side. We have identified moves, to be smart in this game, get underneath them in the scrums, same in the mauls and basically outwork them until fatigue sets in; then we can start playing our game and punch some holes.”

It’s admirable as a statement of intent but the primary challenge in Cork is to successfully translate theory to practice. A win would both reward the work they’ve put in and provide a little confidence and momentum to take into the tougher assignments that lie ahead.

Ireland: L Delany (Sale Sharks); K Corrigan (Old Belvedere/Leinster), E Higgins (Railway Union), E Breen (Blackrock College/Munster), B Parsons (Blackrock College/Connacht); D O’Brien (Old Belvedere/Leinster), A Reilly (Blackrock College/Connacht); L Djougang (Old Belvedere/Leinster), N Jones (Gloucester-Hartpury), C Haney (Blackrock College/Leinster); D Wall (Blackrock College /Munster), S Monaghan (Gloucester-Hartpury); A Wafer (Blackrock College/Leinster), E McMahon (Exeter Chiefs), B Hogan (Old Belvedere/Ulster).

Replacements: C Moloney (Exeter Chiefs), N O’Dowd (Old Belvedere/Leinster), S McGrath (Cooke/Ulster), F Tuite (Old Belvedere/Ulster), S Ikahihifo (Ealing Trailfinders), M Scuffil-McCabe (Leinster), N Fowley (Galwegians/Connacht), A Dalton (Old Belvedere /Leinster).

Wales: J Hesketh; J Joyce, H Jones (capt), K Lake, C Cox; L George, K Bevan; G Pyrs, C Phillips, S Tuipulotu; A Fleming, G Evans; A Butchers, A Callender, B Lewis.

Replacements: M Reardon, A Constable, D Rose, N John, G Hopkins, S Jones, K Powell, C Keight.

John O'Sullivan

John O'Sullivan

John O'Sullivan is an Irish Times sports writer