Fitzpatrick (far left) and O'Brien (third from left) departed for France yesterday. Dan Sheridan/INPHO
Paula Fitzpatrick

Two of Ireland's Women's Six Nations winners have joined a big French club

Heather O’Brien and Paula Fitzpatrick have moved to the Top 8 side.

IRISH RUGBY PLAYERS Heather O’Brien and Paula Fitzpatrick have signed for French side Toulouse.

Munster’s O’Brien and Leinster’s Fitzpatrick departed Ireland on Monday for the south of France and are likely to play some part in Toulouse’s opening game of the season against reigning Top 8 champions Montpellier on Sunday.

The duo – both of whom played key parts in Ireland’s 2015 Six Nations Championship title, and 2014 World Cup run –  follow in the footsteps of former Irish hooker Gill Bourke, who recently returned from playing in Spain, only to sign for Wasps in London to play in the English Premiership.

O’Brien, who plays her club rugby with Highfield RFC in Cork, said: ”I’m really looking forward to it. I’m not sure yet about the finer details but I’m sure that’ll all fall into place and it’ll be good just to put the head down, train away, and start playing.

“I’d heard they were looking for players in France so I looked into it and at Easter I travelled over and got a good vibe.

“It will be unpaid but they’ll look after accommodation and there’ll be more time to train. I suppose the big thing for me is leaving my club, Highfield, but I just wanted to learn a different style and play a different style more than anything.

“The Top 8 league starts against the French champions, Montpellier, on Sunday so that’ll be a real baptism of fire! I’ve some French so I’m sure there’ll be a lot of charades in the first few weeks, but I’m hoping to get a job as a physio’s assistant so I can brush up on my French a little first before getting a more concrete position,” said the 31-year-old Churchtown woman, who owns her own physio clinic in Mallow.

“It will be a challenge and it might be more challenging than I realise in a few weeks time, but I’m going to give it a try at least. I’d definitely regret it if I didn’t do it but I think you just have to take the chance.”

O’Brien and Fitzpatrick have got the blessing from Irish head coach Tom Tierney, who himself spent time abroad during his playing career, and the IRFU, and it is anticipated that the duo will return in October for their second Irish training camp prior to preparations getting under way later in the year to try and retain their Six Nations trophy.

There will be eight games between now and Christmas in the French league, while the season itself will run until May.

Other Irish players playing abroad are Claire Molloy and Larissa Muldoon, who are based in Cardiff.

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