Women’s Six Nations preview: Wales v Ireland
Venue: Cardiff Arms Park, Westgate Street, Cardiff, Wales, Saturday 2:15pm
TV: Live on RTÉ 2
While she didn’t feature for her country on the day, Meabh Deely has admitted avenging last year’s defeat to Wales is on the mind of the Irish players as they prepare to face the same opposition in a Women’s Six Nations opener at Cardiff Arms Park this afternoon (kick-off 2.15pm).
On the first weekend of the 2022 Championship in the RDS, tries from Amee-Leigh Murphy Crowe, Linda Djougang and Stacey Flood weren’t enough for Ireland to avoid a 27-19 loss at the hands of the Welsh. Although her fellow Ballinasloe natives Aoibheann Reilly and Beibhinn Parsons featured in that game, it wasn’t until the subsequent summer tour of Japan that Deely made her international bow.
Initially on the standby list, Deely made the cut for a historic two-Test trip and scored on her debut in the first game against the Japanese. She has retained her place at fullback for today’s encounter, which will be her first in the Six Nations Championship.
“We know they beat us last year and that is in the back of everyone’s minds. We want to go into this with the feeling of revenge and get back at it. I think everyone is feeling good about it. Everyone is really excited and it is a young team.” Deely explained.
“This is the first Six Nations for me and in a way, I don’t know what to expect, but I am really excited about it anyway. We are going into it with that in the back of our minds.”
As well as wanting to reverse last year’s result, Ireland will also be looking for a win to bolster their main target of a top-three finish for 2023. This would help them to secure a spot in the top-tier of WXV – a new global tournament that is set to get under way this autumn.
Yet the Irish starting line-up for today’s game is markedly different from the one that faced Wales at the RDS last time out.
Incredibly, Limerick native Nicole Cronin is the only returning star amongst the back line, albeit Aoife Doyle, Enya Breen and Molly Scuffil-McCabe had forced their way into the side by the end of the 2023 Championship. There is a more familiar look to the forward pack, however, with teenage debutant Sadhbh McGrath and Tipperary’s Maeve Óg O’Leary the only ones not to feature from the start 12 months ago.
From a match-day squad of 23 that day, the Welsh coaching team named 12 players who had earned contracts with the WRU a few months earlier. Ireland find themselves in a similar boat at the moment, with 29 female players now operating under professional deals within the IRFU Women’s High Performance Programme.
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Although this includes those who are part of the Sevens set-up, several of the Irish starting line-up for today’s game are now contracted full-time to the union. Deely is among this cohort and has reaped the benefit of a permanent dedication to her rugby craft in the past few months.
“For me, you’re able to build on your core skills. We do so much every day in terms of just the basics and to be able to focus just on rugby I think makes a big difference. I’m in college, but at the same time it leaves you to not have to have a part-time job and to be able to just play rugby and do my college as well. It takes a bit of the stress off it as well, which I think is really good,” Deely added.
IRELAND: M Deely; A Doyle, A Dalton, E Breen, N Behan; N Cronin, M Scuffil-McCabe; S McGrath, N Jones, L Djougang; N Fryday, S Monaghan; D Wall, M Óg O’Leary, B Hogan.
Replacements: D Nic a Bhaird, N O’Dowd, C Haney, J Brown, G Moore, H O’Connor, D O’Brien, V Irwin.
WALES: C Keight; L Neumann, H Jones, K Lake, C Williams-Morris; E Snowsill, K Bevan; G Pyrs, K Jones, S Tuipulotu; A Fleming, G Crabb; G Evans, A Callender, B Lewis.
Replacements: K Evans, C Thomas, C Hale, K Williams, S Harries, F Lewis, L George, H Bluck.