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Ex-England player and rising star out, US-based youngster in for Ireland's tour to Japan

Greg McWilliams: ‘I truly believe in this squad and the direction that they’re going in.’

Maeve Óg O'Leary misses out through injury.
Maeve Óg O'Leary misses out through injury.
Image: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

IRELAND HEAD COACH Greg McWilliams will be without two of his original 29-strong squad for the upcoming historic summer tour to Japan.

Ahead of departure yesterday, McWilliams confirmed that Clara Nielson and Maeve Óg O’Leary both miss out through injury.

“I truly believe in this squad and I believe in the direction that they’re going in,” the head coach said, while confirming USA target Jess Keating as O’Leary’s replacement.

Bristol Bears hooker Nielson and Jo Brown both previously represented England, and they were two of eight uncapped players in the original squad having switched international allegiances.

An amended World Rugby rule allows players to switch nations if they have been stood down for three years.

“Both Clara and Jo are both capped by England, multiple caps from England,” McWilliams explained at a press conference yesterday. “The last time they were capped was on the England summer tour to the USA in 2019.

“The two of them are proven test internationals with England and now we’ve got the ability to select them for Ireland. They’re eligible and they’re very excited to join the group. Clara isn’t travelling because unfortunately she picked up an injury, but we’ve got a good replacement that came in.

london-uk-08th-may-2021-clara-nielson-2-bristol-bears-women-during-the-allianz-premier-15s-game-between-wasps-fc-ladies-and-bristol-bears-women-at-twyford-avenue-in-london-england-credit-spp Clara Nielson (file pic). Source: Alamy Stock Photo

“Jo Brown will be joining us in Japan and I’m excited. You are testing your depth, but at the same time, we want to win. We’re bringing in people and my staff are bringing in players that we believe have the ability to do great things. They’re great individuals.

“With Jo and with Clara, we’ve done a huge amount of work talking to people about what they can bring as players. We’ve seen lots of footage, we’ve seen their GPS figures and they fit the model. They play the game with a good intensity. They play with good ambition and the most important thing is that they are good people. I think we always talk about the person, the player and then the performance strategy. They fit certainly being a good person and a good player.

“Unfortunately Clara can’t make it, but we’ve got an opportunity to see what Jo is like around the environment and hopefully we add to our back-row depth.”

McWilliams went on to reveal that rising back row star O’Leary sustained an injury on Tuesday, and misses out as a result.

“Maeve Óg is a really tough one for all of us because if you know Maeve Óg, I mean you know Maeve Óg. She’s the life and soul of our group. There’s a few of them and she’s one of them. She’s a brilliant person, she’s going to be missed.

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jess Jess Keating. Source: Life University.

“Unfortunately she picked up an injury and we’ve got a very good replacement in Jess Keating, a young Irish player, who has been on a sports scholarship in the USA, playing for Life University.

“I had seen her play while I was in America and when I was in Japan with the USA team for the World Cup in 2019, I got sent my first video on her. Irrelevant of me being back in Ireland, it was to do with a USA side. She was in between. The USA were keen for her to declare for the USA, but we had to make sure she stayed with Ireland.

“We’re going to have a look at her on tour and we’re looking forward to seeing lots of players who are coming on tour, who are great. I truly believe in this squad and I believe in the direction that they’re going in.”

McWilliams’ Ireland face Japan in Fukuroi City, Shizuoka on Saturday week.

They clash again in Tokyo seven days later, the sides last meeting in the RDS in November 2021 when the hosts won 15-12. (Japan are currently ranked 12th in the world, Ireland seventh.)

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