The Ireland Women’s squad will commence their preparations for this year’s RBS Women’s Six Championship with a training camp this weekend for the extended panel.
Ireland Women’s head coach Philip Doyle has had some tough decisions to make in selecting the 34-player extended squad for this year’s campaign.
One thing that stands out is the increase in the number of Exile players coming into the squad, which is a testament to the work being done by Mark Blair and his team in the UK.
The Exiles played two very competitive matches again Leinster and Munster before the IRFU Women’s Interprovincial Championship in December and there were a number of new players who put their hands up for selection.
There are a number of new faces coming into the squad this year and this, coupled with seasoned internationals and exciting younger players coming through, will certainly make training particularly competitive.
Speaking ahead of the training camp, Doyle said: “This year was definitely one of the toughest selection processes to date for myself and the coaching staff.
“The difficult part of my role is not including players who may have been with the squad before. However, it is a credit to the players who have been working extremely hard to make our jobs so difficult in the selection process.
“Following on from the campaign last year which was our best to date, it is hard to be anything but excited for the season ahead.
“There is a lot of hard work and training ahead of us but I am confident in the ability of the players to deliver on the field this year.”
There is a significant importance to the 2013 Six Nations – not only because it is the premier tournament for Women’s rugby in Europe, but qualification for the 2014 Women’s Rugby World Cup in France is dependent on the results from the 2012 and 2013 tournaments.
There are six automatic qualifiers for next year’s Women’s Rugby World Cup – reigning world champions New Zealand, 2010 runners-up England, 2010 bronze medallists Australia, 2014 hosts France and USA and Canada by virtue of their top six placing at the 2010 tournament.
After England and France, the two highest-placed teams in the Six Nations on aggregate over two years – 2012 and 2013 – will secure places at France 2014.
The remaining two other teams from the Six Nations, plus the highest-ranked teams in Europe, will be joined by a team from Oceania in a Women’s Rugby World Cup qualification tournament in 2013.
IRELAND WOMEN’S Training Squad (2013 Six Nations) – Backs (16): Christine Arthurs (Connacht), Ashleigh Baxter (Ulster), Niamh Briggs (Munster), Lynne Cantwell (Richmond), Nikki Caughey (Ulster), Amy Davis (Ulster), Grace Davitt (Ulster), Nicole Fitzgerald (Munster), Hat Hewitt (Exile), Shannon Houston (Leinster), Ashling Hutchings (Munster), Niamh Kavanagh (Munster), Alison Miller (Connacht), Larissa Muldoon (Exile), Jenny Murphy (Leinster), Nora Stapleton (Leinster).
Forwards (18): Gillian Bourke (Munster), Fiona Coghlan (Leinster), Leigh Dargan (Exile), Lauren Day (Exile), Ailis Egan (Leinster), Paula Fitzpatrick (Leinster), Siobhan Fleming (Munster), Laura Guest (Munster), Fiona Hayes (Munster), Stacey-Lea Kennedy (Ulster), Sharon Lynch (Leinster), Claire Molloy (Exile), Joy Neville (Munster), Heather O’Brien (Munster), Fiona O’Brien (Ulster), Laura Quinn (Exile), Marie Louise Reilly (Leinster), Sophie Spence (Exile).