Laszlo Geczo/INPHO
# The Underdogs
'It is going to be, for a lot of these players, the toughest opposition they’ve played against'
Greg McWilliams insists his charges are in an upbeat mood ahead of their Six Nations showdown with England.

DESPITE ACKNOWLEDGING the scale of the task that awaits them, Ireland women’s head coach Greg McWilliams insists his charges are in an upbeat mood ahead of their Six Nations Championship showdown with England at Welford Road on Sunday (kick-off 12pm).

Ahead of France on score difference at the summit of the table, the Red Roses have registered 31 tries and 189 points across three bonus-point victories to date.

a-view-of-training Laszlo Geczo / INPHO Laszlo Geczo / INPHO / INPHO

They will be playing host to an Irish side that suffered back-to-back defeats at the hands of Wales and the French before finally recording their first win under McWilliams against Italy at Musgrave Park last Sunday week.

All known form is pointing towards England extending their unbeaten run in the Six Nations to 18 games, but Ireland are ready to tackle this daunting challenge head on.

“The players are really upbeat and excited about this challenge. I understand that the press see this as Ireland going in and England being the best team in the world, but all those things are irrelevant in sport.

“It’s about controlling what you can control, preparing yourself as best you can,” McWilliams remarked at a team announcement press conference earlier today.

“We know the size of the task, let’s also be clear about that, but the players are looking forward to that. We’ve put together a plan that the players and the staff are happy about and we just have to go out and compete.

“It is going to be, for a lot of these players, the toughest opposition they’ve played against. The biggest crowd they’ve played against. That’s what life is all about, what sport’s all about. Everyone is writing us off and that’s fine.

“You’ve always got a punter’s chance so we’re just going to keep preparing and get excited for Sunday.”

As has been well documented, seven players who previously featured during this Six Nations campaign are marked absent for this game and the final round fixture against Scotland at Kingspan Stadium. This is due to them reintegrating into the Ireland Sevens squad ahead of a World Series tournament in Langford, Canada next weekend.

This has led to McWilliams selecting a much-changed back line for their trip to Leicester with Nicole Cronin and Kathryn Dane the only players in this sector to retain their places from the Italian game.

While the recalled quartet of Eimear Considine, Sene Naoupu, Aoife Doyle and Enya Breen have an abundance of 15s test experience, Lucan native Molly Scuffil-McCabe is picked at full-back for her international debut at this grade.

molly-scuffil-mccabe Laszlo Geczo / INPHO Laszlo Geczo / INPHO / INPHO

Having formerly spent time in the Sevens programme – starting out as an underage player before being elevated to a development contract – Scuffil-McCabe was given her first call-up to the 15s set-up on the back of her impressive form for All-Ireland League champions Railway Union.

Her club-mate Niamh Byrne is also amongst the replacements and will make her international bow if she is introduced off the bench.

“Obviously the Sevens players are gone, we know that. It’s the elephant in the room. This is a chance for Molly and other people to get a chance. People can say ‘you knew this before coming into the competition’, which we did. People might say ‘you should have integrated them in sooner’ and it’s like ‘yeah, many roads lead to Rome’.

“Molly is someone I’m really excited to see at the weekend and for her, it’s a really proud moment for her and her family. She had a terrific season with Railway. She came into the squad because of her performances and this is her chance to shine. I’m excited to see how she does.

“If you talk to John Cronin the Railway coach, Niamh Byrne is one of the most exceptional people he has coached.

“Sometimes it’s just great to see good people get their opportunity and again like Molly, this is us testing our depth.

“We’re trying to build a robust group and maybe become less dependent on a very small group of players, who are doing both 7s and 15s,” McWilliams added.

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