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'Ireland and Quins are very supportive of me going back and forth'

Leah Lyons is aiming to help Harlequins Ladies to a Premier 15s title after her move to London.

AS MUNSTER BEGIN the defence of their Women’s Interprovincial Championship title against Connacht on 1 September, Leah Lyons might feel a pang of desire to be there in Cork.

Playing for her province has meant so much to the Ballyhooley woman since her Munster debut in 2013, but this summer has seen the Ireland international uproot and move to London to play for Harlequins Ladies in the Premier 15s.

The 23-year-old front row says it was tough to leave Munster behind – she appreciated head coach Laura Guest allowing her to come in for a training session before she departed – but Lyons is confident her move to England will prove rewarding.

Leah Lyons and Caryl Thomas Lyons on the charge for Ireland. Source: Bryan Keane/INPHO

Now in her third week with Quins and living in Twickenham, Lyons is excited to get stuck into the Premier 15s when her new club kick-off against Gloucester-Hartpury on 8 September.

Beaten finalists last season, Quins have title ambitions again and with the Ladies team training in the same facilities as the men’s side in Guildford, Lyons has been impressed with the set-up so far.

“There’s a lot of girls here who are internationals mixed in with the rest of the club and it’s a really good environment to be in,” says Lyons, who plays hooker for Ireland, having come through the ranks from Highfield RFC as a prop.

“I’ve watched a good bit of the league before, including the final against Saracens last season. They’re going to be really physical matches, really fast games and each team has different qualities, so there will be different experiences in every game.”

Keen to test herself in England, Lyons reached out to Harlequins co-head coach Karen Findlay a few months ago, having been connected by some Ireland team-mates.

“Sene Naoupu was with Quins before and so was Deirbhile Nic A Bhaird when Quins were with Aylesford,” says Lyons.

“They explained the culture of the team, that it’s a family feel, and that was great to hear. Anna Caplice has been over here as well and they all have such good recognition for it, they say it’s the best thing you can do.”

Leah Lyons Lyons has impressed at hooker for Ireland. Source: Bryan Keane/INPHO

While the RFU have recently spoken about women’s rugby in England potentially turning professional as early as this season, Lyons is quick to point out that her move to Quins doesn’t involve any remuneration.

“I’m still amateur, still very amateur,” she says. “I think people think there is money involved but there isn’t, not for me.”

Of course, Lyons isn’t the first Ireland player to move to England and even this summer one of her current international team-mates has done the same, with Railway Union and Leinster hooker Cliodhna Moloney joining Wasps.

“It’s great to see it happening,” says Lyons. “Hopefully it will bring up our standard for internationals and we can bring back a few different ideas that we get over here.”

Lyons says the IRFU and Ireland head coach Adam Griggs were supportive when she spoke to them about the opportunity in Quins and it’s likely that Lyons will remain an important player in the national squad.

“There’s a few clashes in camps but we’ll work around them. Ireland and Quins are very supportive of me going back and forth, so that’s the main thing.

“I spoke to Adam and the IRFU before I left just to make sure that it didn’t upset selection but they said, ‘Look, if you’re playing well over there, there shouldn’t be any problems with getting selected.’”

Cliodhna Moloney Ireland's Cliodhna Moloney has joined Wasps. Source: Oisin Keniry/INPHO

Ireland hope to progress under Griggs in the coming season, with a November Test against the US in Dublin, and possibly more autumn games, to look forward to before they attempt to improve on last season’s third-place finish in the Six Nations.

“I really enjoyed the first season with Adam,” says Lyon. “It’s a different style of rugby, very expansive. We have our structure but if you see something, he backs us to go for it, he gives us that freedom. He’ll support you making your own decisions.

Before November, Griggs will be keeping a close eye on the upcoming interpros, where Lyons is sure Munster have a good chance of making it back-to-back titles under Guest.

Lyons also believes that the next wave of talent will underline that the depth in Irish women’s rugby is growing.

“If you look at Munster, for example, they have five girls from the U18s coming up – Andrea Stock, Orla Curtin, Sarah Garrett, Emily Lane and Enya Breen – and they are potentially going to be massive players for Munster in the future and for Ireland.

“They have a shot at it. The depth is slowly getting there and over the next few years they’re going to push it even more.”

- This article was updated at 9.50am on 17 August to alter ‘Highfield woman’ to ‘Ballyhooley woman’ in the second paragraph.

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Murray Kinsella

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