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'I saw Aoife in Dubai, my very first day in the job, and I was like, 'Who is this person?''

The Enniscorthy RFC product is set for her Ireland debut against Italy this weekend.

Aoife Wafer captained the Leinster U18s last year.
Aoife Wafer captained the Leinster U18s last year.
Image: Tommy Grealy/INPHO

IRELAND HEAD COACH Greg McWilliams believes 19-year-old back row Aoife Wafer can make a big impact as she gets set for her international debut off the bench against Italy on Sunday in the Six Nations.

A product of Enniscorthy RFC who now plays with Blackrock in the All-Ireland League, Wafer captained the Leinster U18 team last season.

She first came to the attention of McWilliams when he travelled to Dubai with the Ireland 7s development squad back in December and Wafer is now set for her first Test cap this weekend in Musgrave Park.

“Aoife just turned 19 years of age, she’s a back rower,” said McWilliams this afternoon.

“Her sister Orla is away with the Ireland U18s in Scotland, also a back rower.

“When I first took over the job, I saw Aoife Wafer in Dubai, my very first day in the job and I was like, ‘Who is this person?’

“She went through quite a bit of injury just before the AIL final and after it, so it’s the right time to have her on the bench.”

McWilliams has also made four changes to his starting XV, with Christy Haney, Beibhinn Parsons, Hannah O’Connor, and Kathryn Dane coming into the team.

“Christy came on and did a great job at the weekend,” explained McWilliams.

“She’s somebody who has been waiting patiently in the wings and this game is all about getting an opportunity and taking your chance. Some of the replacements who came on last week took their opportunity really well. Christy is one.

kathryn-dane Kathryn Dane comes in at scrum-half. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

“Hannah O’Connor is a really good leader in the group, particularly around lineouts. She is very clever. Her experience will be good for quite a young group of players.

“Kathryn Dane was on last week and I thought she did great. It’s good to have competition for places, particularly in the halfback positions.

“It was the right time for Kathryn to come on now that there’s a young buck [Aoibheann Reilly] knocking on the heels. It’s time for her to put a marker down, so the timing is right for that.”

As for the decision to drop the experienced Eimear Considine from the matchday 23 altogether and move 7s international Lucy Mulhall into the number 15 shirt for the first time, McWilliams said:

“It’s a hard one because everyone would say that Bei deserves a chance to start. Lucy has been excellent in the backfield. Amee-Leigh Murphy Crowe [who starts on the right wing again] is just an exceptional talent.

“But then last Thursday when we trained in the HPC we did a particular exercise that we demanded a lot from the players and Aoife Doyle [who comes onto the bench] out of everybody was the one who showed up the most. She’s been training exceptionally well.

“She came to France as part of our 26-man squad, we generally travel with three extra players. Her attitude around the group is outstanding and she did all of the additional extras. It’s her time. Munster is her province and it’s right for us to give her this opportunity to come off the bench.

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eimear-considine Eimear Considine misses out altogether this weekend. Source: Evan Treacy/INPHO

“Eimear trained great on Tuesday night knowing that she wasn’t in the 23, like the true player that she is and we are looking forward to training with Eimear next week in the lead up to the England game.

“It’s hard in the back three. You want to make it as competitive as you can so it was right for us to pick Aoife for this game.”

Whatever about Ireland’s selection, they badly need a win on Sunday in front of a crowd of more than 5,000 people in Cork.

“I think this group of players deserve to get the win but I’m sure Italy feel the same after playing France and England, two of the best teams in the competition,” said McWilliams.

“They’re probably coming over here thinking that it’s their turn to win.

“It’s going to be a competitive match, it’s a good Italian side. They play with good width, they’ve got a good offloading game, and they’re aggressive. It’s going to be tough for us but our goal is to get a win this weekend and it’s for the players. They deserve it for the effort they’re putting in and that’s their goal.”

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Murray Kinsella

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