The Ireland Women's Sevens squad are building for a strong finish to their first year as a core team on the IRB Women's Sevens World Series circuit, as they take on some of the game's leading lights in Amsterdam this weekend.
Jon Skurr's talented charges are in Amsterdam this week for the series finale, but one player was a notable absentee when the travelling squad was announced yesterday - Nicole Cronin.
Cronin collected the BNY Mellon Women's Sevens Player of the Year honour at the IRUPA Awards last week, however she misses the Amsterdam Sevens due to a hand injury.
"Unfortunately, losing Nicole Cronin was a big blow for us last week and she will miss the remainder of the season having fractured her hand," explained Ireland head coach Skurr.
"Her absence gives other players the opportunity to come in and get some game-time and look to add value to this ever-improving squad."
One of those promoted players is Old Belvedere's Hannah Tyrrell, who is more known to the Irish sporting public as a goalkeeper with the Dublin Ladies Gaelic football team.
The uncapped Tyrrell will make her international Sevens debut in Amsterdam and has impressed Skurr with her form in training.
"We are excited about Hannah making her debut in Amsterdam. Hannah has played a bit of rugby at Old Belvedere but has spent the majority of the time playing in goal for the Dublin lades this season.
"She was brought into the squad about two months ago and has made a real impact, she is dangerous with the ball in hand and has great feet. We are very excited about seeing what she can offer at this level.
"Hannah was part of the team that got Dublin to their recent National League final and had to make a tough decision as to whether to play in the final (last week) or choose to play international rugby. I'm delighted with her choice and glad to welcome her into the centralised programme."
Captained by Shannon Houston, Ireland have made good strides in their development throughout the season - as evidenced by that jump to ninth place in Guangzhou after finishing 11th (Dubai), 12th (Atlanta) and 11th (São Paulo) in the previous legs of the series.
Defending series champions and current leaders New Zealand head up Ireland's pool in Amsterdam where Skurr's side will also face Spain and the USA on the opening day on Friday.
It is a difficult draw but another welcome chance for the girls in green to test themselves against the world's elite, as they look to 'close the gap' on those established teams operating in full-time programmes.
"It's been a tough first season on the World Series circuit and credit has to go to the players, especially those that been involved since the start. They have seen the programme evolve and they've continued to give everything in order to represent Ireland," added Skurr.
"The standard of rugby is improving tournament by tournament. Nearly all the teams are full-time and it's a challenge for our players to keep up, let alone close the gap.
"The players are working so hard to compete but more importantly to close the gap. The attitude and commitment of the talent identification programme players has been refreshing and they have added real value to our squad.
"Many of the squad have jobs, but are still training 15-20 hours a week. I have total admiration for what they have given up and contributed in order to pull on the green jersey.
"The next month is an important period for us where we finish the World Series, then compete in the European Sevens Series where we have the opportunity to requalify for the World Series qualification event."
Of the squad Skurr has selected for Amsterdam, three have come through the IRFU's on-going talent ID programme - including St. Mary's speedster Martina McCarthy, who was the tournament's joint third top try scorer in Guangzhou with five tries.
All the action from the final round of the World Series in Amsterdam will be streamed live on wsws.irb.com from 12.20pm local time/11.20am Irish time on Friday.
1. Shannon Houston (Blackrock/Leinster) (capt) 2. Martina McCarthy (St. Mary's/Talent ID Programme) 3. Niamh Ni Dhroma (Buccaneers/Connacht) 4. Elaine Ryan (Talent ID Programme) 5. Claire Keohane (UL Bohemians/Munster) 6. Megan Williams (Saracens/Exiles) 7. Hannah Tyrrell (Old Belvedere/Leinster) * 8. Katie Fitzhenry (Blackrock/Leinster) 9. Nikki Caughey (Belfast Harlequins/Ulster) 10. Siobhan Barrett (Tralee/Munster) 11. Laura Lee Walsh (Talent ID Programme) 12. Susan Vaughan (Railway Union/Leinster)
* Denotes new cap at senior international Sevens level
Friday, May 16 -
Spain v IRELAND, NRCA Stadium, 1.26pm local time/12.26pm Irish time New Zealand v IRELAND, NRCA Stadium, 3.48pm local time/2.48pm Irish time USA v IRELAND, NRCA Stadium, 6.54pm local time/5.54pm Irish time
Saturday, May 17 -
Cup, Bowl and Plate competitions (12pm-7.12pm local time/11am-6.12pm Irish time)