Ireland’s women seeking to maintain momentum

Italy game presents opportunity for players to come in and make their mark

WOMEN’S SIX NATIONS

Italy v Ireland,  Stadio Tommaso Fattori, L’Aquila, Sunday, 1.0pm (Irish time), live on RTÉ 2

A bonus-point victory over Scotland: the match clock in red, when Jenny Murphy crashed over under the posts for the all-important fourth try, inspired more relief than exultation in the immediate outpouring of emotion.

It was to some degree a joyless victory based purely on the microcosm of performance.

On Sunday Ireland travel to L'Aquila to take on Italy and coach Tom Tierney has made a couple of changes to the starting team with Hannah Tyrell coming in on the right wing and Elaine Anthony promoted to the secondrow.

There are a further two changes to the replacements with Ciara Cooney filling the void left by Anthony's promotion and the return after injury of Sophie Spence.

Ireland captain Paula Fitzpatrick sat down during the week to reflect on the nature of the win over Scotland, starting with the overriding emotion: "Relief I suppose.

“We were happy we came away with the four try bonus point and the win but disappointed in ourselves in that we didn’t reach our own standards, disappointed with the performance but overall delighted that we get another crack at it this weekend.

‘Dominant’

“Things didn’t click from an overall sense but if you look at the set piece it went very well and the scrum was quite dominant. The lineout, we had a lot of joy out of it as well. I think the issues we had were around discipline, we gave away too many penalties. Rugby is about momentum and we handed that back to them (the Scots).

“Thinks like handling errors really let us down. Those are very fixable and they are not things that we would traditionally be known for so we will be looking to get it right this weekend.”

Tierney has elected to look at the depth in his playing resources ahead of the World Cup later in the year and that was reflected in new five caps in Scotland, four coming off the bench.

Fitzpatrick admitted: “From the outside it looks like a squad with new players coming in but from our point of view we have been together as a squad of 30 odd [players] for the last number of months. Five girls got their first caps but I thought the girls that came on made a good impact.

“They have got a bit of joy about transfers from the talent ID programme so hopefully there will be more.”

The role of captaincy, in the absence of the injured Niamh Briggs sits easily, with the Ireland number eight, Fitzpatrick pointing to the facility to lean on a number of senior players.

‘Decision making’

“I am not really doing anything differently [just] keeping to what I would normally do. Obviously there is a little bit more responsibility in terms of decision making on the pitch. There is a lot of experience in the team even with the new additions coming in. There is a core group that has been there for years and there are a lot of leaders within the team.”

Currently lecturing in Carlow IT at the moment in Sports Science and Strength & Conditioning, she reflects fondly on her time spent in Toulouse. She had the option of another year but wanted to progress her career off the pitch.

“It gave me a different perspective on how rugby is played. I’m not sure if it made me a better player. Over here we are very focused on structures and game plans. Over there it is about play as you feel, about skill levels.

“They play from the time they are six years old which wouldn’t be the case here. Over there the players tend to be a lot more skilful individually. That freedom that they play with was a new perspective for me.”

She knows that Italy, who lost to Wales, will be tough opponents but the priority is to produce a performance without the rough edges of Scotland.

ITALY WOMEN: M Furlan; M Sillari, M Ciofi, S Stefan, M Megatti; B Rigoni, S Barattin; E Cucchiella, M Bettoni, L Gai; F Severin, A Trevisan; L Cammarano, I Locatelli, E Giordano.

Replacements: M Ferrari, G Giacomoli, M Este, E Pilotti, I Arighetti, C Salvadego, S Folli, P Zangirolami.

IRELAND WOMEN: M Coyne (Connacht); H Tyrrell (Leinster), J Murphy (Leinster), S Naoupu (Aylesford Bulls), A Miller (Connacht); N Stapleton (Leinster), A Hughes (Leinster), L Peat (Leinster), L Lyons (Munster), A Egan (Leinster), E Anthony (Munster), ML Reilly (Leinster); C Griffin (Munster), C Molloy (Connacht), P Fitzpatrick (Leinster, capt).

Replacements: J Finlay (Leinster), I Van Staden (Ulster), C O'Connor (Connacht), C Cooney (Leinster), S Spence (Leinster), M Healy (Connacht), C McLaughlin (Ulster), E Considine (Munster).