19 May, 11:13
There are six uncapped players in the Ireland squad for the summer tour to North America that was named this morning. An Emerging Ireland squad has also been selected for the Tblisi Cup in Georgia.
In spite of the girls in green coming closer than ever to a first Championship victory in losing only 8-6 in Thomond Park, coach Donal O'Leary has again shuffled his cards as he seeks his best permutation for the World Cup in May.
Veteran Leinster captain Maura Coulter of Blackrock, one of six survivors in the squad from the last World Cup in Holland four years ago, returns to the frontrow, having benched for the Spanish game after being carried off against Scotland earlier this month. But Shannon's Jean Lonergan retains the No 1 jersey after impressing against Spain on her first Championship start, so Coulter comes in on the right of the front row at the expense of regular tighthead, Edel Coen of Highfield, who drops to the bench.
There is also a change in the back row, with Leinster's English-based flanker Bridget Montgomery taking over from Ulster captain Rachel Reid at blindside. Reid was originally left out of the team for the Scottish match at the start of this month, but was reprieved on that occasion when her intended replacement Montgomery, withdrew due to injury. But fit-again Montgomery, who offers an invaluable lineout option in the absence of Quirke and Coen, now gets her chance as O'Leary continues to weigh up his options.
Fullback Sarahjane Belton will continue with the place-kicking duties which she assumed when Reid was substituted against Spain. The only alteration behind the scrum sees Rachel Boyd, who like her Cooke colleague Reid had started the last 13 internationals, take a turn on the bench after picking up a slight injury against Spain. That facilitates a return wide on the right for Waterloo wing Fiona Neary, an ever-present in 11 Tests until omitted for this month's matches against the Scots and Spanish, with skipper Suzanne Fleming again operating on the left. Neary is joined in the three-quarter line by fellow exile, Worcester centre Nicky Milne, who again partners Patrique Kelly, captain of women's AIL table-toppers UL Bohs, with the latter's clubmate Rochelle Howell retained at flyhalf after a successful return to the side last time out. Karen Eagleson, daughter of Ulster Branch President, Joe, continues at the base of the scrum.
Fiona Steed, now one of three Shannon forwards, extends her Irish cap record with a 48th consecutive Test appearance, in a pack completed by Blackrock lock Anne-Marie McAllister and UL Bohs veterans Elaine Collins and Mary O'Loughlin.
IRELAND. (v France, Melun, April 5): SJ Belton (UL Bohs/Munster); F Neary (Waterloo/Ulster), P Kelly (UL Bohs/Munster), N Milne (Worcester/Connacht), S Fleming (Cooke/Ulster, capt); R Howell (UL Bohs/Connacht), K Eagleson (Cooke/Ulster); J Lonergan (Shannon/Munster), E Collins (UL Bohs/Munster), M Coulter (Blackrock/Leinster), A-M McAllister (Blackrock/Leinster), R Foley (Shannon/Munster), B Montgomery (Ripon/Leinster), M O'Loughlin (UL Bohs/Connacht), F Steed (Shannon/Munster). Replacements: J Sparkes (Blackrock/Leinster), R Boyd (Cooke/Ulster), R Tucker (Shannon/Munster); M Dolo (Old Belvedere/Leinster), E Coen (Highfield/Munster), R Reid (Cooke/Ulster), E Wessell (Richmond/Ulster).