Ireland expecting a strong challenge from cohesive Italian side

Both Ireland and Italy have suffered two defeats apiece in women’s Six Nations

Six Nations: Ireland vs Italy, Sunday April 10th, Musgrave Park (5pm kick-off, live on RTÉ 2)

Despite their chastening 74-0 reversal at the hands of England in front of their home supporters last Sunday, Ireland women's head coach Greg McWilliams is expecting a strong challenge from a cohesive Italian side at Musgrave Park tomorrow (kick-off 5pm).

Heading into the third round of this year’s Six Nations Championship, both Ireland and the Azzurri have suffered two defeats apiece and are still searching for their first points of the competition.

Wales and France have gotten the better of the Irish thus far and - on the eve of the first women's rugby international in Cork - McWilliams is keen to point out the status of the Italians differs to that of their male counterparts.

“In fairness to the Italians and sorry for beating the same drum, but they’re going to a World Cup. They have a cohesion of players, people that might have retired. We have a group of players that retired, for example, last year that would have stayed on for a World Cup,” McWilliams explained from the squad’s Leeside base.

“You automatically think of Italy, you think about the men’s game and you think ‘ah, this is going to be a win for Ireland’. It’s a very good Italian side that does well in the women’s game. I think it’s going to be a tough battle. It’s going to be another challenge for us and hopefully we can come out on the right side of it.”

As he bids to record his first win as Ireland head coach, McWilliams has significantly reshuffled his pack after picking identical match day 23s for the Welsh and French games. Beibhinn Parsons returns to the back-three as an indirect replacement for Eimear Considine and there is also a spot at scrumhalf for Kathryn Dane at the expense of Aoibheann Reilly.

Christy Haney starts at tighthead prop after making her debut off the bench against France and Hannah O'Connor takes over from Brittany Hogan at No 8. Aoife Doyle and uncapped 19-year-old backrow Aoife Wafer are added to the bench.

Although he acknowledges the inclusion of Parsons will provide an extra layer of dynamism to the Irish attack, McWilliams doesn’t see it as a radical reinvention of the wheel.

System

"We generally play a very similar system. Different personnel go in and go out. Bev obviously adds an extra spark. Amee-Leigh Murphy Crowe is one hell of a winger. Eimear Considine is a hell of a winger who is losing out this week, where we have Aoife Doyle coming in.

“You just hope that anyone playing out wide adds spark and an energy. Gets the crowd going, gets the team going. Everyone wants to see Ireland playing good rugby and scoring tries. I know they are the people who can hopefully do that for us.”

Due to the limited time they have together in a given match week, McWilliams and his coaches are forced to think outside the box when it comes to preparing their squad for battle. The prospect of training against an underage men’s team was strongly suggested earlier in the week and yesterday saw the Irish set-piece being put to the test by a selection of UCC’s male players.

“It was essentially a group of Under-20s and a few of their seniors. We’re trying everything we can. We’ve got to be innovative to try and get us up to speed. For us to train as an eight against an eight is only going to be a good thing. It’s an area that we need to work on, but the more exposure we have to this, the better we’re going to be,” McWilliams added.

Ireland: L Mulhall; A-L Murphy Crowe, E Higgins, S Flood, B Parsons; N Cronin, K Dane; L Djougang, N Jones, C Haney; N Fryday, S Monaghan; D Wall, E McMahon, H O'Connor.Replacements: E Hooban, C Pearse, K O'Dwyer, B Hogan, A Wafer, A Reilly, E Breen, A Doyle.

Italy: M Furlan; A Muzzo, M Sillari, B Rigoni, M Magatti; V Madia, S Barattin; G Maris, M Bettoni, L Gai; S Tounesi, G Duca; B Veronese, I Locatelli, E Giordano. Replacements: V Vecchini, M Merlo, S Seye, V Fedrighi, A Frangipani, S Stefan, A D'Incà, V Ostuni Minuzzi.