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'She's eligible for Ireland' - Former England back row Brown set for debut in green

The Worcester back row was previously capped seven times by the Red Roses.

Jo Brown breaks away to score for England against Canada in 2017.
Jo Brown breaks away to score for England against Canada in 2017.
Image: Adam Davy

THE MAJOR CHANGE in World Rugby’s international eligibility rules last year has already seen some fascinating switches of allegiance in men’s rugby.

For example, ex-New Zealand international Charles Piutau made his Tonga 15s debut this summer alongside former Wallabies fullback Isreal Folau and ex-All Black Malakai Fekitoa.

Now, we’re seeing it happen in the women’s game too, with former England international Carys Williams-Morris set to make her Wales debut against Canada on Saturday.

Irish rugby will also benefit from the change for the first time this weekend as seven-times capped ex-England back row Jo Brown wins her first cap for Ireland against Japan.

Worcester flanker Brown last played for England in 2019, meaning she has completed the necessary three-year standown period that allows her to switch to Ireland, for whom she qualifies through her family roots.

There might have been a second example on Ireland’s tour of Japan but once-capped former England international Clara Nielson was ruled out due to injury after initially being called up.

28-year-old Brown was good enough to have a full-time contract with England Rugby in 2019 but fell out of the picture with the Red Roses in recent years. Now she will restart her Test career with Ireland.

Irish rugby has, of course, previously used the residency rule to cap players, while there have been plenty of internationals who were born in other countries but qualified through their parents or grandparents.

This is the first example in the modern era of a player switching allegiance after previously being capped by another nation, and Ireland head coach Greg McWilliams said he simply views Brown as an Irish-qualified player.

greg-mcwilliams Ireland head coach Greg McWilliams. Source: Akito Iwamoto/INPHO

“When I got the job, one of the first things I did was connect with Joe Lydon and Steve McGinnis who run the IQ programme [the IRFU's Irish-Qualified Rugby branch],” said McWilliams of how the switch came about.

“There’s a wide range of players that are Irish-qualified and Jo is one of them. You’re watching her performances in the Prem. I love how she goes about her business, she’s very tough and abrasive.

“She’s got seven caps for England, her last cap was in 2019. We had a look at her over the summer and I was impressed with what I saw. I think she buys into the style of rugby we’re trying to play and I’m looking forward to seeing how she goes.”

McWilliams said there was no sense of using the new World Rugby eligibility rules as being strange.

“I’ve never thought of it as a thing, to be honest,” said McWilliams. “I’ve never addressed it with her. She came in and straight away it was like she has been with the group. Not an issue at all, to be honest.

“She has bought in, added good value, and is a very good rugby player. She’s eligible for Ireland so we’re going to see how she goes. 

“We want to develop a wide player pool that’s going to be competitive, that’s the goal as we prepare for the World Cup, that’s got to be our target in three years’ time. We’re trying to test as many players and she’s one of them.”

Brown starts in the number six shirt for Saturday’s second Test against Japan in Tokyo, where Ireland will be looking to back up last weekend’s impressive 57-22 victory.

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There are two other personnel changes to the team as Laura Feely comes in at loosehead prop and Grace Moore, another IQ Rugby product, starts in the back row.

Versatile forward Jess Keating and Barnhall back Emma Tilly are set for their debuts off the bench.

grace-moore-on-the-attack Grace Moore starts for Ireland after impressing off the bench last weekend. Source: Akito Iwamoto/INPHO

“Laura Feely is somebody who has worked exceptionally hard since the Six Nations, she deserves her chance,” said McWilliams of the changes.

“She’s a very skillful player, has done a lot of work on her fitness and I’m looking forward to seeing how she goes for sure.

“Jess Keating, who is a utility forward, comes in. She’s from Life Unversity [in the US] originally. She has added value after being a late call-up for Maeve Óg O’Leary. I think it’s good to have a look at her on the bench.

“We’ve got Grace Moore and Jo Brown, two players who are starting at 8 and 6 respectively. I want to see what they’re like. They’re working hard, training well, they’ve committed to the programme and I think to give the best opportunity to people, you’ve got to give them time to shine.

“We’ve moved Hannah O’Connor to second row, she’s played there before. We’ve pushed Linda across to tighthead so we want to test our group.

“I expect Japan to play at a very, very fast pace and try to run us around the field. They’ve gone for a 6/2 split as well so I’d say it’s a case of changing the guts of their pack early in the second half to keep the pace on. It’s our job then to make sure we can match that.”

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