New coach, new captain, new campaign and four new caps in the starting line-up. There is a freshness to the Ireland Women’s squad as they look to kick on from last year’s successful campaign, with Italy the visitors to Ashbourne RFC in Friday’s RBS Women’s 6 Nations opener (kick-off 7.30pm).
RBS WOMEN’S 6 NATIONS CHAMPIONSHIP: Friday, February 5
IRELAND WOMEN v ITALY WOMEN, Ashbourne RFC, 7.30pm
Team News: New Ireland Women’s coach Kevin West has included several familiar faces and a sprinkling of new talent with four new caps in the starting line-up to face Italy.
Up front, team captain Fiona Coghlan, who will be winning her 49th cap at prop, is joined by Emer McManamly, earning her sixth, and the uncapped Chris Fanning of Highfield and Munster at hooker.
There is another new cap in the second row as Marie Louise Reilly joins Kate O’Loughlin. Reilly is from Navan RFC and should bring some strong local support to the game in Ashbourne.
The highly experienced Tania Rosser is at scrum half and will be partnered at number 10 by Joanne O’Sullivan. With a combined total of over 90 appearances, they should provide strong leadership in the back-line.
Nora Stapleton of Old Belvedere will earn her first cap on the right wing, with Alison Miller of Portlaoise making her debut on the left.
The Ireland Women’s squad are based in Ashbourne Rugby Club for their Championship campaign.
The club are pulling out all the stops to support the girls in green with buses set to ferry supporters from Dublin for the games and a big crowd expected for the three floodlit ties.
New skipper Coghlan is looking forward to the first game and will not be taking Italy lightly.
“With Italy you don’t know from one year to the other what their game plan will be because they’re further away, without much press and without a lot of news about their club games. They are the unknown,” she admitted.
Meanwhile, Italy, coached by Andrea Di Giandomenico Luca Bot, will line out with a number of new players to this level on Friday.
Replacements Valentina Virgili and Chiara Buongiorno are poised to make their senior debuts off the Italian bench, while loosehead prop Lucia Gai is one of three other players with European Championship experience earning their first Six Nations call-ups.
Italy centre and captain Paola Zangirolami said: “The only thing that has changed for the squad this year is that we have some new trainers and some new young squad members who have come through.
“We played at the European Championship after the Six Nations last year which gave us some tough games which we hope will help us be more competitive this year.”
IRELAND WOMEN: Niamh Briggs (Clonmel/Munster); Nora Stapleton (Old Belvedere/Leinster), Grace Davitt (Blackrock/Leinster), Shannon Houston (Blackrock/Leinster), Alison Miller (Portlaoise/Connacht); Joanne O’Sullivan (Richmond/Exile), Tania Rosser (Blackrock/Leinster); Fiona Coghlan (UL Bohemians/Leinster) (capt), Chris Fanning (Highfield/Munster), Emer McManamly (Blackrock/Leinster), Kate O’Loughlin (Clonmel/Munster), Marie Louise Reilly (Navan/Leinster), Carol Staunton (Galwegians/Connacht), Claire Molloy (Bristol/Connacht), Joy Neville (UL Bohemians/Munster).
Replacements: Gillian Bourke (UL Bohemians/Munster), Lauren Day (Cooke/Ulster), Caroline Mahon (UL Bohemians/Leinster), Louise Austin (UL Bohemians/Munster), Louise Beamish (UL Bohemians/Munster), Helen Brosnan (Highfield/Munster), Eliza Downey (Cooke/Ulster).
ITALY WOMEN: Manuela Furlan (Benetton Treviso); Sara Barattin (Casale), Maria Grazia Cioffi (Benevento), Paola Zangirolami (Sitam Riviera Del Brenta) (capt), Maria Diletta Veronese (Valsugana Padova); Michela Tondinelli (Benetton Treviso), Valentina Schiavon (Sitam Riviera Del Brenta); Lucia Gai (Sitam Rivera Del Brenta), Michela Este (Benetton Treviso), Elisa Cucchiella (Red&Blu), Sara Pettinelli (Red&Blu), Flavia Severin (Benetton Treviso), Giuliana Campanella (Red&Blu), Silvia Gaudino (Monza 1949), Daniela Gini (Red&Blu).
Replacements: Silvia Peron (Sitam Riviera Del Brenta), Germana Raponi (Red&Blu), Alice Trevisan (Sitam Riviera Del Brenta), Cecilia Zublena (Sassenage Isere), Elisa Rochas (Monza 1949), Chiara Buongiorno (Monza 1949), Valentina Virgili (Monza 1949).
Referee: Sarah Corrigan (Australia)
Assistant Referees: Paul Haycock, Brian Montayne (both Ireland)
Pre-Match Quotes: Fiona Coghlan (Ireland Women) – “Last year Italy were beating us in the second half, so we can’t afford to write them off. We gave ourselves a scare in that game and they put it up to us so we can’t afford to write them or any team off in this competition.
“Kevin West, our new coach, doesn’t want to change too much but wants to bring in his own game plans and we’ve all supported the way he’s going. It’s stepped up a notch this year compared to last year.
“We played Scotland in a warm-up game before Christmas and it’s always valuable to get game-time against international opposition. For both us and Scotland it was a training game and for Kevin it was his first game with us, so it was very important for him.
“The score-line – a six-try win – didn’t reflect the game as Scotland had a lot of possession but we took our chances well.
“We’re really looking forward to the Championship and hopefully we can improve on our third place finish last year.
“We’re mentally and physically right for it and we’re determined to make a winning start. We’ve a good nucleus of experienced players and some new up-and-coming players on board this year, but people just come in and they gel straight away and that’s one of the most important things in our squad. We’re like thirty sisters.”
Pre-Match Links –
Recent Meetings –
2007: RBS Women’s 6 Nations: Italy Women 12 Ireland Women 17, Stadio Tre Fontane, Rome
2008: RBS Women’s 6 Nations: Ireland Women 19 Italy Women 0, Templeville Road
2009: RBS Women’s 6 Nations: Italy Women 17 Ireland Women 35, Stadio Natali, Colleferro