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Parsons back, POM presents, scrum nous, UCC sessions - Ireland bid to rebound

Greg McWilliams’ side are desperate for a win against Italy in Cork this evening.

Ireland captain Nichola Fryday and prop Linda Djougang.
Ireland captain Nichola Fryday and prop Linda Djougang.
Image: Bryan Keane/INPHO

Updated Apr 10th 2022, 9:35 AM

JUST THREE GAMES into the new era and already the pressure is on.

There appears to be a general understanding that Greg McWilliams’ project with Ireland Women is a long-term one built towards the team being competitive at the top level within a couple of seasons, but the prospect of a losing streak certainly isn’t palatable.

Italy are in Cork for tonight’s Round 3 clash in the Six Nations [KO 5pm, RTÉ2] and, like Ireland, they have yet to win in this championship. This could be the Wooden Spoon decider, so McWilliams’ side will need to be better than they have been over the past two weekends.

Sorting out their set-piece, having delivered just 44% success at the lineout and 60% success at the scrum last time out against France, would go a long way towards Ireland notching a victory.

Regular scrum coach Rob Sweeney was away from camp this week, so Ireland men’s scrum specialist John Fogarty has been with the squad since they regathered on Thursday morning to prepare for this Italy clash.

“He has been working with the front rows all week,” said captain Nichola Fryday, alluding to the online work Ireland began in the days after the France defeat.

It also helped that Ireland got a live training session against the UCC men’s U20 team on Friday, with a referee brought in to adjudicate the head-to-heads at scrum and lineout.

john-fogarty Ireland scrum coach John Fogarty was with the squad this week. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

“UCC were able to give us different pictures and that allowed us to review our performance in training,” explained Fryday.

“You’re identifying if you made the right call, how they defended it, just pinpointing different things having that live opposition.

“It was really beneficial. We’re quite a small pack, we’re shorter than other teams, so it’s how we can use our height to get lower teams. The men were taller than us so it’s about different things like that, picking out bits you can use against them.”

Fryday is Ireland’s lineout caller, as well as being captain, and she believes that the Irish pack and forwards coach Dave Gannon have found solutions for last weekend’s issues. 

“France are a very difficult team and always a huge challenge in the lineout because they bring such aggression in the air and their defence system is very different to other teams we play against,” explained Fryday.

“We’ve just been looking at how we can manipulate the Italians in the space we want to be jumping in, making sure we’re getting clean ball. We’ve done lots of previews of Italy and then trying to fix up stuff from last week as well.”

If the Irish pack can deliver clean set-piece possession, the Ireland backline has more than enough attacking quality to cause Italy serious damage.

Clever out-half Nicole Cronin and creative inside centre Stacey Flood would simply love more front-foot possession in order to prompt talents like Eve Higgins, Amee-Leigh Murphy Crowe, and Lucy Mulhall into space.

beibhinn-parsons Beibhinn Parsons is back in Ireland's starting XV. Source: Bryan Keane/INPHO

“The backline we have are world-class and if we can get the ball to them, it’s going to be really exciting and we’ll be able to play the brand of rugby we’ve been talking about and shown glimpses of,” said Fryday.

Of course, there is great excitement about the recall of 20-year-old wing sensation Beibhinn Parsons to the starting XV having made replacement appearances against Wales and France following her return from injury.

The Cork crowd will want to see Parsons on the ball as often as possible this evening.

“She is just world-class,” said Fryday. “You give her an inch and she can run half the pitch. She has come back fitter and stronger than ever. She’s really excited to get on the pitch and you can tell she’s relishing this opportunity now.”

While exciting 19-year-old back row Aoife Wafter is set for her debut off the bench, the other three changes to the starting XV see Christy Haney starting at tighthead prop, Hannah O’Connor coming in at number eight, and Kathryn Dane introduced at scrum-half.

O’Connor and Dane are part of Ireland’s senior leadership group along with Fryday and Cronin, so they should be able to provide a calming influence.

It will be needed given that Italy’s matchday 23 have a whopping 809 Test caps between them, whereas Ireland have only 228.

“Hannah would be a lineout caller as well, so to have her as an extra set of eyes in that lineout will be a big help,” said Fryday, who is enjoying the captaincy.

hannah-oconnor-is-tackled-by-chloe-jacquet Hannah O'Connor is a strong set-piece operator. Source: Dave Winter/INPHO

“Then Kathryn is a class nine and will bring that calmness and composure with the experience she has. It’s going to be good to have the two of them on the pitch as well.”

It hasn’t just been about rugby in Ireland camp in recent days, with a squad trip to the local Some Dose coffee shop after training on Friday allowing the group to relax in each other’s company.

They were soon back to business, though, with all minds focused on getting a win by any means possible this evening. 

Last night, Munster captain and Ireland back row Peter O’Mahony presented the jerseys to the matchday squad, following on from Brian O’Driscoll doing the honours before the Wales game.  

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With a crowd of around 5,000 expected in Cork, Fryday and co. would dearly love to give their fans something to celebrate.

“The support in the RDS was amazing against Wales and we’ve seen what it’s like in Musgrave Park with the U20s. Cork people are so welcoming. We’ve had everything we need and could want down here, so we’re really excited to get out there.

“I’ve had messages about busloads of girls coming from West Cork and stuff like that, so it’s a great opportunity for them to see us play. It can be a long trip to Dublin or Belfast, so it’s really nice to hear that they’re getting exposed to it as well.”

Ireland:

15. Lucy Mulhall
14. Amee-Leigh Murphy Crowe
13. Eve Higgins
12. Stacey Flood
11. Beibhinn Parsons
10. Nicole Cronin
9. Kathryn Dane

1. Linda Djougang
2. Neve Jones
3. Christy Haney
4. Nichola Fryday (captain)
5. Sam Monaghan
6. Dorothy Wall
7. Edel McMahon
8. Hannah O’Connor

Replacements:

16. Emma Hooban
17. Chloe Pearse
18. Katie O’Dwyer
19. Brittany Hogan
20. Aoife Wafer
21. Aoibheann Reilly
22. Enya Breen
23. Aoife Doyle

Italy:

15. Manuela Furlan (captain)
14. Aura Muzzo
13. Michela Sillari
12. Beatrice Rigoni
11. Maria Magatti
10. Veronica Madia
9. Sara Barattin

1. Gaia Maris
2. Melissa Bettoni
3. Lucia Gai
4. Sara Tounesi
5. Giordana Duca
6. Beatrice Veronese
7. Isabella Locatelli
8. Elisa Giordano

Replacements:

16. Vittoria Vecchini
17. Michela Merlo
18. Sara Seye
19. Valeria Fedrighi
20. Alessandra Frangipani
21. Sofia Stefan
22. Alyssa D’Incà 
23. Vittoria Ostuni Minuzzi

Referee: Sara Cox [RFU].

About the author:

Murray Kinsella

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