Skilful Italy to prove a difficult assignment for Ireland

Negative energy around the home squad this week makes this an uphill task for Griggs’s side

Ireland women’s coach Adam Griggs working with the squad at Donnybrook in advance of the Italy clash. “Top-three finish was our target,” said Griffin, “and that is in our grasp.” Photograph: Ryan Byrne/Inpho

Ireland women’s coach Adam Griggs working with the squad at Donnybrook in advance of the Italy clash. “Top-three finish was our target,” said Griffin, “and that is in our grasp.” Photograph: Ryan Byrne/Inpho

 

Ireland v Italy, Donnybrook, 12pm – (live on RTÉ Two)

There has been a Groundhog Day feeling in the build-up to this Six Nations third-place play-off. Similar vibes to all the messing that went around the 2017 World Cup disaster.

Lots of male voices talking and reporting about women’s rugby. Far too many people speaking, or refusing to speak about what needs to happen to save the game on this island.

It still makes no sense why the IRFU would allow Ireland head coach Adam Griggs to publicly admonish himself on Thursday after comments he made on Tuesday that appeared to indicate he did not know who was running the domestic game. Turns out he knew all along and just needed a second press conference to name two low-key personnel, in Collie McEntee and Amanda Greensmith.

All the while, Mary Quinn, the chairwoman of the IRFU women’s committee, and Anthony Eddy, the director of women’s rugby in Ireland, say absolutely nothing.

Irish captain Ciara Griffin appeared on Friday morning to give the players some much needed visibility.

Griffin was asked when the group was informed about the fixture being switched from Parma to Dublin – due to Irish hotel quarantine rules and the Italian Federation’s co-operation – and what the feeling was like in camp post the 56-15 thumping by France last Saturday.

Griffin, ever the diplomat, delivered her upbeat answers, but it should be noted that the squad only came back together on Thursday. With such a short lead in, the challenges that Italy will present look beyond them.

Dropping Claire Molloy from the match-day squad, which severed the last link to the golden era of Irish women’s rugby, was a curious decision that prompted criticism from former Ireland coach Philip Doyle – who cannot understand why Harlequins backrow Anna Caplice missed the cut – as Sevens contracted players are promoted to the starting XV.

“The best Irish forward bar none last season,” Doyle tweeted about Caplice. “If only she played Sevens.”

Sorely lacked

However, Brittany Hogan and London-born Grace Moore, due to be capped off the bench, offer an athleticism that Ireland sorely lacked against France.

Griggs also made a big, albeit sensible, call to promote Stacey Flood at outhalf ahead of Hannah Tyrrell.

Flood, Hogan and the other players that failed to reach Test match standards last week have an opportunity to repay the Kiwi coach against an Italian side that looked highly skilled before contact during their 41-20 win over Scotland.

Ireland defence coach Kieran Hallet will have identified the need to deny Beatrice Rigoni any time or space in midfield as much as scrum coach Rob Sweeney must ensure that the pack have their shoulder to the wheel.

Scotland’s maul troubled Italy so Cliodhna Moloney will need to pilot the lineout drive, but only if she and Aoife McDermott can sort out the set piece.

The positive prediction has Flood’s laser-pass creating tries for Amee-Leigh Murphy Crowe, Eve Higgins and Béibhinn Parsons but the negative energy around Ireland this past week makes one lean towards an Italian victory.

“Top-three finish was our target,” said Griffin, “and that is in our grasp.”

IRELAND: Eimear Considine (UL Bohemian/Munster); Amee-Leigh Murphy Crowe (Railway Union/Munster)(1), Eve Higgins (Railway Union/Leinster), Sene Naoupu (Old Belvedere/Leinster), Beibhinn Parsons (Ballinasloe/Blackrock College/Connacht); Stacey Flood (Railway Union/Leinster), Kathryn Dane (Old Belvedere/Ulster); Lindsay Peat (Railway Union/Leinster), Cliodhna Moloney (Wasps/IQ Rugby), Linda Djougang (Old Belvedere/Leinster); Aoife McDermott (Railway Union/Leinster), Nichola Fryday (Blackrock College/Connacht); Dorothy Wall (Blackrock College/ Munster), Brittany Hogan (DCU/Old Belvedere/Ulster), Ciara Griffin (capt, UL Bohemian/Munster). Replacements: Neve Jones (Malone/Ulster), Laura Feely (Blackrock College/Connacht), Leah Lyons (Harlequins/IQ Rugby), Grace Moore (Railway Union/IQ Rugby), Hannah O’Connor (Blackrock College/Leinster), Emily Lane (Blackrock College/Munster), Hannah Tyrrell (Old Belvedere/Leinster), Enya Breen (UL Bohemian/Munster)

ITALY: Victory Ostuni Minuzzi; Manuela Furlan (capt), Michela Sillari, Beatrice Rigoni, Maria Magatti; Veronica Madia, Sara Barattin; Erika Skofca, Melissa Bettoni, Lucia Gai; Valeria Fedrighi, Giordana Duca; Ilaria Arrighetti, Francesca Sgorbini, Elisa Giordano. Replacements: Lucia Cammarano, Gaia Maris, Michela Merlo, Sara Tounesi, Isabella Locatelli, Beatrice Veronese, Sofia Stefan, Aura Muzzo.

Referee: S Cox (RFU)

Verdict: Italy win.

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