Ireland face a difficult task at Esher RFC on Sunday. England lead the way in the RBS Women’s 6 Nations standings, are chasing their fifth successive Championship title and have yet to concede a point in 2010. Can the Kevin West-coached Irish cause an upset and stun the high-flying hosts?
RBS WOMEN’S 6 NATIONS CHAMPIONSHIP: Sunday, February 28
ENGLAND WOMEN v IRELAND WOMEN, Pillar Data Arena, Esher RFC, 3pm
Team News: Along with John Hayes receiving his 100th cap for Ireland, Irish rugby will hit another centenary milestone with the Ireland Women’s team playing their 100th international game this weekend.
Ireland Women’s coach Kevin West has named his team for this historic clash with England, which includes eight changes to the the side that was defeated by France 19-9 in their last outing.
Six players have been promoted from the bench, Chris Fanning, Lauren Day, Kate O’Loughlin and Claire Molloy take their place in the forwards and Helen Brosnan and Nora Stapleton come in to the backs.
West has made two positional changes with Amy Davis switching from right to left wing and Joanne O’Sullivan moving from out-half to centre.
Speaking of the task ahead, West said: “We are aware of the significance of the 100th Irish Women’s game and the entire squad and management team are immensely proud to be involved in such a momentous occasion.
“But aside from that occasion, we are aware we have a big task ahead of us. This is an important game, England have yet to concede a score in this year’s Championship.
“From our side, we have been concentrating on our set pieces and are looking forward to the challenge.”
Meanwhile, England coach Gary Street, whose side top the RBS Women’s 6 Nations table with two wins from two, has made a number of changes to the starting line-up to face Ireland.
Sophie Hemming, Joanna McGilchrist, Margaret Alphonsi, Katy Mclean and Katherine Merchant all return, with positional switches seeing Fiona Pocock pencilled in at full-back and Alice Richardson moving from out-half to centre.
Amy Turner also returns from injury for the first time since England’s historic win over reigning World Cup champions New Zealand in November.
England head into Sunday’s game without conceding a single point to date in this year’s Championship, following wins over Wales (31-0) and Italy (41-0).
ENGLAND WOMEN: Fiona Pocock (Richmond); Katherine Merchant (Worcester), Emily Scarratt (Litchfield), Alice Richardson (Richmond), Michaela Staniford (Wasps); Katy Mclean (Darlington Mowden Park Sharks), La Toya Mason (Wasps); Rochelle Clark (Team Northumbria), Amy Garnett (Saracens), Sophie Hemming (Bristol), Tamara Taylor (Darlington Mowden Park Sharks), Joanna McGilchrist (Wasps), Heather Fisher (Worcester), Margaret Alphonsi (Saracens), Catherine Spencer Bristol (capt).
Replacements: Samantha Reeve (Worcester), Claire Purdy (Wasps), Rebecca Essex (Richmond), Jane Leonard (Litchfield/Army), Amy Turner (Richmond), Rachael Burford (Richmond), Claire Allan (Richmond).
IRELAND WOMEN: Niamh Briggs (Clonmel/Munster); Nora Stapleton (Old Belvedere/Leinster), Joanne O’Sullivan (Richmond/Exile), Shannon Houston (Blackrock/Leinster), Amy Davis (Blackrock/Leinster); Helen Brosnan (Highfield/Munster), Tania Rosser (Blackrock/Leinster); Fiona Coghlan (UL Bohemians/Leinster) (capt), Chris Fanning (Highfield/Munster), Lauren Day (Cooke/Ulster), Kate O’Loughlin (Clonmel/Munster), Marie Louise Reilly (Navan/Leinster), Orla Brennan (Blackrock/Leinster), Claire Molloy (Bristol/Connacht), Joy Neville (UL Bohemians/Munster).
Replacements: Gillian Bourke (UL Bohemians/Munster), Emer McManamly (Blackrock/Leinster), Louise Austin (UL Bohemians/Munster), Carol Staunton (Galwegians/Connacht), Louise Beamish (UL Bohemians/Munster), Grace Davitt (Blackrock/Leinster), Alison Miller (Portlaoise/Connacht).
Referee: Stefano Marrama (Italy)
Assistant Referees: Ken Morgan, Paul Stanley (both England)
Pre-Match Quotes: Fiona Coghlan (Ireland Women) – “(The 100th match) is a huge milestone and all, but to be honest at the end of the day it’s just another game and another huge game against a very good team.
“We can’t get too bogged down with it being the 100th game, although it will be a great occasion and one that should be celebrated.
“England are clear favourites this weekend for obvious reasons. They have been on fire and haven’t conceded any points.
“It is a huge test, but in the past two years we have risen to the challenge and played quite well against them.
“We have never beaten them, but hopefully it will come. It would be brilliant if it came this weekend.
“It would be amazing (to beat them), particularly going into the World Cup later this year and that being our opening game in the World Cup. It would be a huge confidence boost.”
Catherine Spencer (England Women) – “Ireland have a strong team and play great attacking rugby so once again we will need to ensure that our defence is watertight.
“We have worked hard on our defence over the last couple of years and this work is really coming to fruition.
“The urgency in defence throughout the squad has been really impressive and we’ll certainly aim to replicate these great defensive performances against Ireland on Sunday.
“Having said that we will want to go into the game with a positive attacking attitude as well, and with our back-three of Fiona Pocock, Katherine Merchant and Michaela Staniford, we have the potential to attack from anywhere.
“After a week off from Six Nations action we’re very much looking forward to this game against Ireland. We’ve had some close games against them over the last couple of years so we are fully prepared for a tough fixture.
“Up front Ireland have a powerful pack, so we will need to ensure that we are switched on in this area from the first whistle as we won’t want them to gain any momentum.
“Sophie Hemming comes back into the starting line-up at tighthead prop and we will be looking to our very experienced front row to provide a solid platform.”
Pre-Match Links –
Recent Meetings –
2007: RBS Women’s 6 Nations: Ireland Women 0 England Women 32, Thomond Park
2008: RBS Women’s 6 Nations: England Women 17 Ireland Women 7, Sunbury, London Irish Amateur RFC
2009: RBS Women’s 6 Nations: Ireland Women 13 England Women 29, Templeville Road, St. Mary’s College RFC