'She's in the condition of her life' - Sene Naoupu returns for Ireland

Head coach Greg McWilliams is without 10 players who would likely have featured against England.

Naoupu [right] is back for Ireland.
Naoupu [right] is back for Ireland.
Image: Bryan Keane/INPHO

IRELAND HEAD COACH Greg McWilliams is backing 38-year-old centre Sene Naoupu to make an impact as she returns to the squad ahead of Sunday’s Six Nations clash with England in Leicester.

The experienced Naoupu was left out of the Ireland squad for the opening three rounds of the championship but has now been recalled after the departure of five of McWilliams’ starting backline for Ireland 7s duty.

Naoupu has recently linked up with England Premier 15s side Exeter in order to stay sharp in the event that Ireland needed to call on her, with McWilliams praising the Leinster midfielder’s fitness.

With previous starting centres Stacey Flood and Eve Higgins now having left camp to join the Ireland 7s, it could even be that Naoupu comes straight back into the starting XV against England.

“Age is a number,” said McWilliams of recalling Naoupu. “In the women’s game, you notice you’re dealing with a younger training age, some of them don’t start playing until college.

“Sene is in the condition of her life, she was close to inclusion for all three games so far. I felt Stacey and Eve deserved their start and Sene was very close to that. I stayed in touch with Sene, she’s been training hard, she was outstanding at training on Saturday.

“She’s in a good place in her life at the moment. You have to remember as a sportsperson that where they are in their life can dictate where they are on the field.

“She’s in a really good place, she’s happy and I want her to be like this is her first-ever cap, like a 19 or 20-year-old who has the bit between her teeth.

“She trained superbly on Saturday and I’m looking forward to seeing her go. You’re always selecting your 23 based on people you believe are going to do the best they can for Ireland, and she’s outstanding.”

a-view-of-training Ireland training at the IRFU's high performance centre today. Source: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

While McWilliams is excited to welcome Naoupu and six other players into the squad this week, there is no doubting how big a play it is for Ireland to lose seven players to the Ireland 7s squad.

Beibhinn Parsons, Stacey Flood, Lucy Mulhall, Eve Higgins, Amee-Leigh Murphy Crowe all started in Ireland’s backline in the win over Italy two weekends ago, while Anna McGann and Brittany Hogan have featured in the pack during this Six Nations.

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Throw in a calf injury for outstanding second row Sam Monaghan and a hamstring issue for young back row Aoife Wafer, and Ireland are missing lots of good players this weekend for the most demanding fixture in the sport.

“You’re losing Sam, who is the equivalent of losing the five 7s backs who have gone, they’re on a par in terms of what she’s beginning to develop,” said McWilliams.

“You just move on now, it’s about coming up with a plan that works around her absence. 

“We have a massive challenge, we’ll be missing 10 players who more than likely would be in your starting 23 but in these times you get to see the rest of your squad and test the wider group.

“A lot of people will have been patiently waiting, a lot will think they should have got an opportunity before now, and you prepare them as best you can.

“We don’t have a huge amount of prep time, we’re playing against a team of professionals, but we’re still going out there believing in what we do, and hopefully we can stick to it.”

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Murray Kinsella

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