Dan Sheridan/INPHO Ciara Griffin was the centre of attention during Friday's captain's run.
End of an era
New faces can impress against Japan as Griffin and Griggs prepare to bow out
Ireland can make it two wins from two after a difficult couple of weeks off the pitch.

TODAY’S GAME AGAINST Japan at the RDS [KO 3pm, RTÉ 2] will bring the curtain down on a long, ultimately disappointing chapter for an Ireland team that must be desperate to put this year behind them.

The failure to qualify for the Rugby World Cup, and the manner of the team’s performances at that qualifier tournament in September, was in itself enough heartbreak to digest over the cold months of winter.

Then along came Anthony Eddy and the storm that followed his divisive comments last week, before confirmation arrived that the IRFU will not be making the reports from the two ongoing reviews into women’s rugby publicly available.

Throw in Ciara Griffin’s surprise retirement and the impending exit of head coach Adam Griggs, who is set to be replaced by Greg McWilliams, and you get an image of a chaotic November window for these players. 

At least the work on the pitch has been good, the squad taking a first small step in moving on from Parma with a deserved win over the USA last week. 

It was a performance that included plenty of positives, not least a clear desire for the squad to show some unity after one of the most testing periods of their careers.

Beibhinn Parsons produced another moment of magic, a set-piece which proved problematic in September looked stronger and the highly-rated Maeve Óg O’Leary enjoyed an impressive debut off the bench.

Today’s match at the RDS presents an altogether different challenge.

Griggs has made eight changes to his starting team and has included three uncapped players – namely Connacht’s Shannon Touhey and Leinster pair Mary Healy and Ella Roberts – in his matchday 23.

There’s an all-new front row which includes hooker Neve Jones, who wins her sixth cap, while Aoife McDermott comes into the second row and Hannah O’Connor wins a first Test start at number eight.

The backs have also had a reshuffle, as Aoife Doyle comes in on the wing while Enya Breen makes a first start at 10 alongside scrum-half Kathryn Dane in a new half-back pairing.

enya-breen Dan Sheridan / INPHO Enya Breen starts at out-half. Dan Sheridan / INPHO / INPHO

They will all be looking to catch the eye of incoming boss McWilliams. Munster winger Doyle is just one of the players who has found opportunites limited during the restrictions and postponements that came with Covid, having rejoined the 15s squad last year for the first time since 2015

“When I first came back in, I was part of the first three games of the Six Nations and then Covid hit and I found myself not playing for 18 months,” she explains.

It has definitely been a crazy journey. I was hit with a lot of injuries too. I’m just very motivated now to take my opportunity that I’ve been given. Because 18 months out of an Irish jersey makes you want it that little bit more. I’m very excited to take my chance.

“Obviously Greg will be there to see us in the stands, but so will our family and friends. When I go out and play, you’re trying to play for yourself and your family also. That’s what you keep in your head without that extra pressure in the back of your mind. For me this game on Saturday is all about enjoyment and hopefully putting on a show for the fans.”

Japan are also using this window to look at some new faces.

Five of their starting pack have less than five caps to their name, with second row Otoka Yoshimura set for her Test debut. Outside scrum-half Moe Tsukui (15 caps), no member of the backline has more than eight caps.

And this looks to be another challenging encounter for such an inexperienced side, who have lost to Wales and Scotland in recent weeks.

Ireland have the skill, pace and power to make this a difficult evening for the visitors. After a tough couple of months, the squad are keen to sign off for 2021 on a positive note. Even after all the support the players received last week, just over 2,000 supporters turned up at the RDS for the USA game.

“I was speaking to my club Shannon RFC in Limerick, that I was a part of a couple of years ago and they have 150 girls coming up at the weekend,” Doyle adds.

“I think we do have good support from the public, especially young girls. That’s what we love to see in the crowd because we know that they want to be in our shoes in a couple of years’ time.

“Hopefully a couple of more people come out now on Saturday.”

IRELAND: Lauren Delany; Aoife Doyle, Eimear Considine, Sene Naoupu, Laura Sheehan; Enya Breen, Kathryn Dane; Laura Feely, Neve Jones, Linda Djougang; Aoife McDermott, Sam Monaghan; Ciara Griffin, Edel McMahon, Hannah O’Connor. 

Replacements: Cliodhna Moloney, Katie O’Dwyer, Mary Healy, Anna Caplice, Maeve Og O’Leary, Alisa Hughes, Shannon Touhey, Ella Roberts.

JAPAN: Ria Anoku; Hinano Nagura, Mana Futura, Kanako Kobayashi, Komachi Imakugi; Ayasa Otsuka, Moe Tsukui; Sachiko Kato, Nijiho Nagata, Makoto Lavemai, Kie Tamai, Otoka Yoshimura, Seina Saito, Misaki Suzuki, Ayano Nagai.

Replacements: Hinata Komaki, Ayumu Kokaji, Wako Kitano, Saki Minami, Iroha Nagata, Yuki Ito, Megumi Abe, Minori Yamamoto.

Bernard Jackman, Gavan Casey, and Murray Kinsella reflect on Ireland’s stunning win over the All Blacks, hail Ciara Griffin’s Ireland career, and chat about Rassie:

The42 Rugby Weekly / SoundCloud

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