20 Jun, 09:22
Ireland Women's Sevens head coach Jon Skurr has announced a 12-woman squad for the Rugby World Cup Sevens in Moscow (June 29-30).
In a December friendly, a new-look Ireland side turned in an impressive performance against England, leading for most of the game only to leak two late tries.
But there was enough endeavour in the effort to predict that the Irish will be a tough team to beat this season.
While familiar faces abound in the 36-player squad chosen to challenge for spots in the RBS Women's 6 Nations, there is also a fresh air about the Irish side who will go into their fixtures with a new head coach and a new captain.
Steve Hennessy has replaced John O'Sullivan as head coach and Joy Neville has replaced the retired Sarahjane Belton as team captain.
Lynne Cantwell and Fiona Coghlan are the team's vice-captains.
Ireland will take on France in their first fixture with the confidence that they are on the right track following their warm-up game against England and their fourth place finish last year ahead of Scotland and Italy.
Hennessy is determined that his charges believe they can win against any of the sides they face.
"Every team will be tough this year with so much at stake but a win against the likes of France or England would give a massive boost to the squad," he said.
"The girls were very disappointed to lose to England in December but I think the performance showed that we are on the right track and I am very optimistic heading into this championship."
While England remain favourites for the overall title, after securing a third successive Grand Slam in 2008, the battle to finish in the top four means that every game this year takes on extra significance and Ireland will face no easy ties.
Wales finished second last year and France are always a huge threat but Ireland have the talent in their ranks to at least push for a top-three finish.
"I have been really impressed with the skills, dedication and commitment the girls have shown," Hennessy added.
"I am just looking at the French game for now and with them first up at home it's a real chance for us to set out our stall for the rest of the season."
Ireland have improved year-on-year in this competition and despite the retirement of a number of experienced players last year, a refreshed squad and coaching set-up, could very well propel them to new heights this time around.