As someone who has known the Kerry native for virtually all of her adult life, Aoife Doyle recognises how much of a loss Ciara Griffin will be going forward for the Ireland women's rugby team.
Despite being just 27 years of age, Griffin caused a shock on Tuesday afternoon when she announced her impending retirement from the international game. A primary school teacher by profession, she will lead out her country as captain for the 24th and final time on Saturday afternoon in a Test encounter against Japan at the RDS (kick-off 3pm).
While acknowledging the void Griffin will leave upon her departure from the Ireland set-up, Doyle also said it is making her team-mates all the more determined to give the skipper a farewell to remember.
“I played with her since under-18 at Munster so I’ve known her all my rugby career,” Doyle explained. “I’m very close to her, she brings me up and down from Limerick to camp. She’s just a very selfless, nice person and then on the pitch she’s a leader and when she speaks everyone listens. We’re losing a great friend and a great leader.
“It adds extra excitement that we want to give her the send-off she deserves. I obviously didn’t play with her last week and so this week it is extra motivational to make it special for her. We’ll leave stuff to later. Everything is so sticky with Covid, but she will definitely get a good send-off when we are able.”
Joining Griffin in the backrow for this game will be Wasps flanker Edel McMahon and Hannah O’Connor, who is handed her first start after six previous appearances off the bench.
It will also be an important outing for Doyle, given she hasn't featured in an Ireland matchday squad since February 2020 – a resounding Six Nations defeat to England in Doncaster. The pandemic and a host of injuries have kept her out of action since then, but she is selected on the right wing for the visit of Japan to Ballsbridge.
Whereas Ireland missed out on qualification for next year’s World Cup in New Zealand, the Japanese have secured their place. Having viewed footage of the Sakura 15 in recent weeks, Doyle is anticipating a fast-paced affair when she crosses the white line in the RDS this weekend.
“Japan are a great side. We’ve obviously been looking at them in the past few weeks when we knew we would be coming up against them in this window. In terms of their game, they have a good kicking game so we need to be aware of their kicking game,” Doyle added.
“They’re a very skilful team, their scrum-half has a great passing game. They’re a very nippy side, they have a lot of speed out the back and like the men they are very skilful. They are dynamic so I expect it to be a very fast-moving game against them for definite.”
IRELAND: Lauren Delany; Aoife Doyle, Eimear Considine, Sene Naoupu, Laura Sheehan; Enya Breen, Kathryn Dane; Laura Feely, Neve Jones, Linda Djougang; Aoife McDermott, Sam Monaghan; Ciara Griffin (capt), Edel McMahon, Hannah O'Connor.
Replacements: Cliodhna Moloney, Katie O'Dwyer, Mary Healy, Anna Caplice, Maeve Óg O'Leary, Alisa Hughes, Shannon Touhey, Ella Roberts.