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'Absolutely scary... We're grateful it was found early' - Ireland welcome back Naoupu after health scare

The star centre is among a list of key players that have returned to the squad in time for their Six Nations clash with Italy.

IRELAND HEAD COACH Adam Griggs has hailed the recovery of Sene Naoupu, who has been named to start in their Six Nations clash with Italy following a health scare.

sene-naoupu-celebrates-after-the-game Sene Naoupu has been named to start against Italy on Saturday. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

The star centre returned to Ireland training last month after undergoing surgery for a tumour in her neck earlier this summer. 

The procedure, which was delayed by over four months due to the Covid-19 pandemic, affected her vocal chords. She was also placed on a two-week walking programme after the surgery before gradually progressing to full training again.

Naoupu spoke to the media about her experience shortly after her return to the Ireland squad, at a time when her voice was still hoarse and she was unsure as to when she would be fit to play a match for Ireland.

But Griggs has been impressed with her progress and is happy to give her the nod for the 12 jersey on Saturday evening at Energia Park [kick-off, 6.30pm].

“She’s a very experienced player,” says Griggs of Naoupu.

“She had her doubts but from our point of view, she’s been training really well. Over the last couple of weeks, she’s stepped that up again and she’s also our vice captain so we want to keep that experience where we can.

“Like all the players, it’ll probably be that first 10 minutes of the game that might be a shock to the system but I’m sure she’ll grow into it. I know she’s looking forward to it as well but from our point of view, she’s performed well in training and she’s earned her selection.”

The discovery of Naoupu’s tumour was quite fortuitous, as it was originally perceived to be a rugby injury.

The 36-year-old was stretchered off during Ireland’s Six Nations defeat to England earlier this year, after suffering a shoulder injury which required an MRI scan.

It was then that her tumour was revealed and she fortunately found herself on the road to recovery. 

adam-griggs Ireland head coach Adam Griggs. Source: Ryan Bailey/INPHO

Ireland prop Lindsay Peat was also withdrawn from that game after sustaining a serious ankle injury which ruled her out of the rest of their Six Nations campaign.

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The intervention of Covid has enabled both players to become available again before these final two rescheduled fixtures against Italy and France.

“Absolutely scary,” says Griggs as he recalls finding out about Naoupu’s tumour.

“It’s funny the way the world works. She picks up a rugby injury but finds something else.

At the end of the day, we’re grateful that it was found early and was able to have the procedure that she had and along with Lindsay Peat, [was] quite lucky with the break in rugby due to the pandemic, it’s really afforded them the time to recover and come back, so it’s just one of those things.

“We hope that it’s done with now, they move on and they’re fit and healthy and ready to go.”

Ireland have some injury problems heading into Saturday, with Aoife McDermott and back rows Edel McMahon and Claire McLaughlin all unavailable for selection.

But along with Naoupu and Peat, Ireland are equally bolstered by the return of former captain Claire Molloy, who took a sabbatical from rugby this past year to continue her training in emergency medicine.

Likewise, Beibhinn Parsons is back in rotation after she too was expected to miss the concluding stages of the Six Nations to focus on her Leaving Cert. She starred in Ireland’s home victories over Scotland and Wales before stepping aside to focus on her studies.

“We’re delighted to have Claire back,” says Griggs. “In one way it’s interesting. She’s got her shot straight in at starting, certainly through Edel [McMahon] who was nominated for Player of the Year with this group but she’s injured at the moment so there’s no better person to come in than Claire.

She’s hit the ground running. The physical attributes are there as well but for us at this level, it’s players who understand reading the game and are able to adapt and adjust to what they see and I think Claire is really good at that.”

Speaking about the teen sensation Parsons, Griggs says he’s thrilled to be able to select her on the wing after a turbulent few months in which Covid-19 forced the cancellation of her Leaving Cert.

“Beibhinn’s got that x-factor about her. Everyone has seen that now. When you have a player with that x-factor, you want them on your side and again, I know it was a stressful time for Beibhinn through what’s happened and it wasn’t straightforward for her either so we’ve had a chat with her, and really at this point, we’re telling her to focus on the rugby now and be excited that you can get these games in.

“She’s been training really well, she’s added a couple of things to her arsenal that I’m excited to see on Saturday.”

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