Ireland Women’s coach John O’Sullivan has named an experienced team for Friday’s Six Nations opener against Italy at Templeville Road (kick-off 2.30pm). With the return from injury of captain Sarahjane Belton, O’Sullivan has left his five uncapped players on the replacements bench.
The selected back-line sees the return of Munster’s stand-out centre Patrique Kelly, who has not played since taking a year out after the 2006 World Cup, while the positioning of Belton at full-back means Ireland will be strong on the counter-attack.
There is also a settled look to the pack up front, with Germaine Healy providing experience in the second row. Eimear O’Sullivan starts at blindside flanker despite playing just two club matches this season, after an excellent performance in a trial game recently propelled her back into the frame.
Coach John O’Sullivan said: “We have a starting team (who are) very experienced on the international stage. It’s obviously great to welcome back our captain Sarahjane Belton who hasn’t played any serious rugby since we played Italy last year. She has worked extremely hard to get back after suffering with a very painful back injury for the last ten months.
“We’re also delighted to see Patrique Kelly back and Tania Rosser who gave birth to her son Serge in September. They epitomise the character of all the players in the squad who make huge personal sacrifices to represent their country.”
He added that despite beating Italy last year, Ireland are under no illusions ahead of their opening game of the 2008 tournament.
“We are expecting a very strong challenge from the Italian team. We know how tough they can be, they have some very good players and they pushed us very hard in Rome last year. We are obviously looking for a good performance but our target this week is to simply win the game,” explained the Cobh man.
IRELAND WOMEN’S Squad (v Italy, 2008 RBS Women’s 6 Nations, St. Mary’s College RFC, Templeville Road, Friday, February 1, kick-off 2.30pm):
Sarahjane Belton (capt); Lynne Cantwell, Patrique Kelly, Shannon Houston, Grace Davitt; Joanne O’Sullivan, Tania Rosser; Fiona Coghlan, Jess Limbert, Marie Barrett, Caroline Mahon, Germaine Healy, Eimear O’Sullivan, Sinead Ryan, Orla Brennan.
Replacements: Gillian Bourke, Yvonne Nolan, Kate O’Loughlin, Louise Austin, Louise Beamish, Niamh Briggs, Amy Davis.