Women’s Six Nations: Victory in air as Ireland back at Broadwood
It won’t be the thrashing of 2015, but Irish expect a convincing win over improved Scotland
Mairead Coyne is backed up by Alison Miller in the Ireland v England match on November 13th. Photograph: ©INPHO/Billy Stickland
Ireland’s trek towards a World Cup on home soil begins at Clyde FC’s ground this evening. Nine of the Irish team return to this venue with fond memories, having captured the 2015 Six Nations title on the 3G surface. That sunny March afternoon saw them go wild, rattling off a 73-3 victory against a ridiculously inadequate Scottish side.
Two years on, Scotland have improved enough to avoid a thrashing. But a convincing victory is the base expectation for Tom Tierney’s women after a disappointing November when England, Canada and New Zealand all won in Dublin. But this Tierney selection is more notable for its absentees rather than the starters. Still no Sophie Spence, who has suffered with a long-term concussion issue. Niamh Briggs, the captain, the kicker and central cog in this squad, is also missing.
“Both are unavailable this weekend due to return-to-play protocols,” Tierney told RTÉ radio. “We are very, very happy both are going along the lines of getting back to fitness as quickly as possible.”
Tierney has gone to impressive lengths to unearth and integrate players who have impressed in the Sevens programme, at club level and during the interpros (an example being the rise of Railway Union scrumhalf Ailsa Hughes). Still, Spence and Briggs remain the pillars that so much of the success since the 2013 Grand Slam has been built upon.
“Every team wants their world class players,” he said, “and thankfully we have plenty of those in the squad at the moment.”
There are a few. Sene Naoupu and Jenny Murphy, having missed almost a year through injury, combine for the ideal mix of skill and power in midfield. Ali Miller’s return from Sevens is timely, her pace vital to finish off the opportunities the pack should create.
Even without Briggs and Spence, it remains a decent Ireland side. Maz Reilly guarantees lineout ball. Ailis Egan anchors the scrum and always gets through a mountain of work. Claire Molloy will ruin any loose Scottish possession. And Paula Fitzpatrick, captain in place of Briggs, should carry over the gainline.
“We are building nicely for the year of our lives,” added Tierney.
Hughes is joined by four other uncapped players, including the entire frontrow replacements (Jennie Finlay, Ilse Van Staden and Ciara O’Connor) and Eimear Considine from UL Bohs.
The link between Gaelic Games and women’s rugby continues with Dublin’s Lindsay Peat at loosehead prop and Galway’s Mairead Coyne at fullback.
“Mairead is a real attacking threat in the back three, marrying an array of GAA skills, especially fetching high balls,” said Claire Molloy in an interview with The Irish Times. “She’s a fantastic tackler, cut the Welsh fullback in half recently, to deny what was a certain try. Her work rate in defence is immense. She’s a huge new asset.
“That we have found talent like Mairead and Ailsa shows how much the game has grown.”
Now this team must prove that growth is sustainable. Its a long road back to UCD in August. The year of their lives, for many, will always be 2014 and Marcoussis and beating the Black Ferns en route to the World Cup semi-final.
This performance needs to show some evidence that something similar can happen again.
SCOTLAND: C Rollie; M Gaffney, L Thomson, L Martin, R Lloyd, H Nelson, S Law; T Balmer, R Malcolm, L Smith, E Wassell, D McCormack, K Dunbar, L McMillan, J Konkel. Replacements: L Park, H Lockhart, K Dougan, S Bonar (Lichfield), J Forsyth, J Maxwell, L Harris, E Sinclair.
IRELAND: M Coyne (Connacht), N Kavanagh (Munster), J Murphy (Leinster), S Naoupu (Aylesford Bulls), A Miller (Connacht), N Stapleton (Leinster), A Hughes (Leinster), L Peat, L Lyons, A Egan, O Fitzsimons, M-L Reilly (Leinster), C Griffin (Munster), C Molloy (Connacht), P Fitzpatrick (Leinster, capt). Replacements: J Finlay (Leinster), I Van Staden (Ulster), C O Connor (Connacht), E Anthony (Munster), N Fryday (Connacht), M Healy (Connacht), C Mc Laughlin (Ulster), E Considine (Munster).
Verdict: Ireland win