Women’s Six Nations Championship: Ireland v Wales, RDS, Saturday, 4.45pm - Live on Virgin Media One and BBC Two NI
Her side may have recorded an emphatic victory over the same opposition in last year's championship, but Ireland women's backrow Dorothy Wall is still expecting a stern examination from Wales in the opening round of the 2022 Six Nations today.
Just under 12 months ago – in a behind-closed-doors affair at Cardiff Arms Park – Tipperary native Wall was among the tries as a visiting Irish side recorded an astonishing 45-0 triumph against their Celtic counterparts. This was one of seven games Wales have lost on the bounce in the competition, which means Ireland should be firm favourites to make a winning start under new head coach Greg McWilliams.
However, there have been drastic changes to the women’s rugby landscape in Wales over the past few months, with 12 players being handed professional contracts. This select group have all been included in the match-day squad for today’s game and will be eager to lay down a marker of their own in the RDS.
“We’re definitely expecting a challenge. I don’t think we expect it to be the same Welsh team that it was last year. Nor are we the same Irish team that we were last year, so I’m expecting it to be a good clash and for it to be exciting rugby to watch,” Wall acknowledged.
Aside from being an opportunity to move on from the disappointment of failing to qualify for the World Cup finals in New Zealand that are due to take place in the autumn, this year's Six Nations will see Ireland going on a tour of the country for their three home games. Following the encounter against Wales at the RDS, Ireland will face Italy at Musgrave Park in Cork (on April 10th) and Scotland at Kingspan Stadium in Belfast (April 30th).
Given it is more than two years since she has played in front of spectators on home soil – injury ruled her out of back-to-back wins over the USA and Japan at the RDS last November – Wall is excited for what the next few weeks will bring.
“I think having that home crowd just gives you that extra boost and knowing your family are in the stands is huge. I think my gran is going to come. She hasn’t been at a game since my first cap back in 2020, so there is a huge buzz, I think. In every family and just in the team in general.”
Although McWilliams named nine uncapped players in his squad for the championship, only three of this cohort are in line to make their debuts in the Wales opener. Christy Haney and Anna McGann are listed among the replacements, but Aoibheann Reilly has been given the nod at scrum-half alongside the returning Nicole Cronin.
The presence of Eimear Considine, Amee-Leigh Murphy Crowe, Eve Higgins and Stacey Flood ensures there is an otherwise familiar look to the back line, while secondrow Nichola Fryday leads out the team for the first time as captain.
Hooker Neve Jones is joined in the frontrow by Linda Djougang and Katie O'Dwyer, whereas Wall will operate in unison with Edel McMahon and Brittany Hogan at the base of the scrum.
Speaking as someone who also counts the Galway woman among her team-mates at club level, Wall is confident that Reilly will be able to produce the goods on her international bow.
“We were playing for Blackrock this year and it was really fun. Myself and Aoibheann definitely planned towards the Six Nations together and I’m really excited to see what she can do. She’s going to be very good,” Wall added.
IRELAND: E Considine; A-L Murphy Crowe, E Higgins, S Flood, L Mulhall; N Cronin, A Reilly; L Djougang, N Jones, K O'Dwyer; N Fryday, S Monaghan; D Wall, E McMahon, B Hogan. Replacements: E Hooban, C Pearse, C Haney, A McGann, H O'Connor, K Dane, E Breen, B Parsons.
WALES: K Powell; L Neumann, H Jones, K Lake, J Joyce; E Snowsill, K Bevan; G Pyrs, C Phillips, C Hale; N John, G Crabb; A Butchers, A Callender, S Lillicrap. Replacements: K Jones, C Hope, D Rose, S Harries, B Lewis, F Lewis, R Wilkins, S Tuipulotu.
Referee: Kat Roche (USA)
Assistant referees: Hollie Davidson (Scotland) and Nikki O'Donnell (England)
TMO: Claire Hodnett (England)