Women’s autumn international: Ireland v Japan, RDS, Saturday, 3pm – Live on RTÉ 2
Following the frustration of missing out on her country’s ill-fated World Cup qualification campaign in September, Ireland women’s rugby international Hannah O’Connor is ready to leave her mark on this afternoon’s autumn Test against Japan at the RDS (kick-off 3pm).
After sustaining a broken finger a month earlier, O’Connor was forced to watch on from afar as Ireland fell short in their quest to reach next year’s finals in New Zealand.
A debutant in a November 2019 defeat to Wales at the UCD Bowl, all six of the Blackrock College forward’s Irish appearances to date have been off the bench. However, she has been handed the pivotal position of number eight for the visit of the Japanese to Ballsbridge.
“It was one of those pathetic little injuries that managed to require surgery. So it was very frustrating. It was hard for me, and then hard for the girls to go over there and for it to go the way it did. Thankfully now I’m glad to be back and all firing,” O’Connor remarked in the lead-up to the game.
“Your goal first of all is to get into the Irish squad, get your foot in the door and get a feel for it. In any sport you’re always driving on, looking ahead to where you can improve yourself and get better. It’s definitely something I’ve wanted for a while [a start]. To get more minutes and keep building.”
O’Connor’s promotion to the starting line-up is one of eight changes from the side that secured a 20-10 win over the USA last Friday week.
With Laura Feely named at loosehead prop – and Katie O'Dwyer offering cover on the bench – it now seems likely the USA Test was Lindsay Peat's final appearance in the green jersey. Today's game will definitely be an international swansong for team captain Ciara Griffin, who surprisingly announced her retirement from Irish duty earlier in the week.
O’Connor will line up alongside the Kerry native – known affectionately to her team-mates as ‘Junior’ – in the backrow with Edel McMahon providing support at openside flanker.
Given how vital a player Griffin has been to this Irish team – she has made 40 appearances out of a possible 42 internationals since her debut in February 2016– O’Connor acknowledged there is an extra incentive to sign off on 2021 in winning fashion.
“As if you needed extra ammo for a home game, it does bring that extra level to it. We want nothing more than to sign off in the absolute best possible fashion for her. To give her the send-off she deserves. It definitely does add fuel to that fire,” O’Connor added.
This will also be Adam Griggs's 25th and final game as Ireland head coach before he makes way for Greg McWilliams in the new year. Although he has resisted the temptation to include any uncapped players in his starting line-up, Mary Healy, Shannon Tuohey and Ella Roberts are expected to make their international bows off the bench.
IRELAND: L Delany; A Doyle, E Considine, S Naoupu, L Sheehan; E Breen, K Dane; L Feely, N Jones, L Djougang; A McDermott, S Monaghan; C Griffin, E McMahon, H O'Connor.
Replacements: C Moloney, K O'Dwyer, M Healy, A Caplice, M Og O'Leary, A Hughes, S Touhey, E Roberts.
JAPAN: R Anoku; H Nagura, M Furuta, K Kobayashi, K Imakugi; A Otsuka, M Tsukui; S Kato, N Nagata, M Lavemai; K Tamai, O Yoshimura; S Saito, M Suzuki, A Nagai.
Replacements: H Komaki, A Kokaji, W Kitano, S Minami, I Nagata, Y Ito, M Abe, M Yamamoto.