Ireland call on Katie Fitzhenry for centre role against France

‘What they (France) lack in experience they make up for in pure aggressiveness and eagerness’

Ireland v France (Ashbourne RFC, Meath, Friday, 7.30pm)

The Ireland women's team to face France shows one change with Blackrock's Katie Fitzhenry replacing Jackie Shiels at inside centre.

Fitzhenry was one of six debutants blooded during last Friday's 30-5 victory over Italy in Florence. That match also unveiled a new coaching structure under Anthony Eddy and Tom Tierney but most interestingly was the reconstructed on-field leadership.

Nora Stapleton, who earns her 30th cap against France on Friday, is now running the backline as Niamh Briggs captains the side from fullback.


Fiona Coghlan’s retirement sees the always charismatic Mags O’Reilly calling the lineout with Highfield’s Heather O’Brien now pack leader.

But it was the maturing performances of other members of the 2013 Grand Slam side really caught the eye at Stadio Mario Lodigiani, particularly the improved passing range and power of scrumhalf Larissa Muldoon, while Sophie Spence has brought a sharper edge to her game.

The Belvedere lock almost carried as much as flanker Paula Fitzpatrick. It mattered in the face of Italian resistance in those nervy opening exchanges. The maul eventually did enough damage to ensure a runaway victory.

A far more demanding opposition visits Ashbourne on Friday evening.

France, still smarting from the World Cup semi-final defeat to Canada in Paris, bring six of the pack that overpowered Ireland on two occasions last year. They also retain the usual personality trait of a French side with their collective propensity to drift in and out of matches. Ireland, seemingly dead and buried, almost caught them down in Pau last season.

Still, with several backs ensconced in their Sevens squad the Six Nations champions are a less daunting prospect.

“What they lack in experience they make up for in pure aggressiveness and eagerness,” said Stapleton. “They still have their big backrow . . . it’s nothing that we are not used to.”

Ireland team v France (Ashbourne RFC, Meath - Kick-off 7.30pm): N Briggs (UL Bohemian, capt); H Tyrrell (Old Belvedere), J Murphy (Old Belvedere), K Fitzhenry (Blackrock), A Miller (Portlaoise); N Stapleton (Old Belvedere), L Muldoon (Skewen RFC); R O'Reilly (Galwegians), G Bourke (Olympico de Pozuelo RFC), A Egan (Old Belvedere); S Spence (Old Belvedere), ML Reilly (Old Belvedere); P Fitzpatrick (St Marys), C Molloy (Bristol), H O'Brien (Highfield). Replacements: S Mimnagh (Wasps), F Hayes (UL Bohemian), F O'Brien (Old Belvedere), O Fitzsimons (St Marys), K Norris (Blackrock), T Rosser (Blackrock), J Shiels (Richmond), S Naoupu (Galwegians).

Gavin Cummiskey

Gavin Cummiskey

Gavin Cummiskey is The Irish Times' Soccer Correspondent