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Stapleton Relishing Ireland’s Return To ‘Fortress Ashbourne’

Stapleton Relishing Ireland’s Return To ‘Fortress Ashbourne’

Ireland Women’s out-half Nora Stapleton is hoping that Ashbourne will once again prove a fortress when they host France tonight. The girls in green are looking to build on their 30-5 opening round victory over Italy.

In the way of Tom Tierney’s team is a highly regarded French side who began their Women’s RBS 6 Nations title defence with a comprehensive 42-0 home win over Scotland last weekend.

A hat-trick of tries from winger Julie Billes in a seven-try romp has set the scene for a titanic top of the table clash with Ireland, and a repeat of last August’s World Cup 3rd-4th place play-off which the French won 25-18.

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Previewing the rematch with les Bleues, Nora Stapleton said: “We know in the back of our mind what France are like. You’re always thinking they’re huge because they haven’t changed their team much. Their pack are very big, they run hard, and if you go high on them at all they’ll simply shrug you off with the shoulder.

“It’ll be a case of tackling around the knees and ankles, trying to get them to ground early. In saying that, you still have to have an aggressive line speed and come up and put them under pressure, which we will do I’m sure.”

Ireland will once again be led by new captain Niamh Briggs, with the full-back contributing 10 points in the Italy game in Florence. She succeeded Fiona Coghlan as skipper and the ace goal-kicker has slotted into the captaincy role seamlessly.

Stapleton believes her 2013 Grand Slam-winning team-mate is naturally suited to the captaincy, saying: “I’m sure it was a great experience for her and for the first game, she did have a few nerves, but on the field she didn’t show them. She’s learning all the time.

“She is beginning to understand what’s needed and what’s not needed during a game. I’d say as the competition goes on, she is going to learn in each game as well. But from what I can see, it comes naturally to her.”

Despite the French being without one of their second rows and their back-line being not as experienced as the one which lit up the World Cup on home soil last year, their speed and aggressiveness are still key components of their game.

Tonight’s clash sees Ireland return to the familiar surroundings of Ashbourne RFC for their opening home game of the 2015 Championship and Stapleton fondly recalls their most recent meeting with the French at the Co. Meath venue. A big home attendance cheered Ireland on to a thrilling 15-10 victory two years ago and she hopes it will be a fortress once again.

“The last time we had France over, there was close to 4,500 people at the game. I just remember (it) being absolutely wedged. When we were on the field, it was a really foggy night, and there was just people everywhere around the ground.

“I remember thinking this is a hell of a lot more people than we have ever got outside the Aviva (Stadium) before. You can cater for that in Ashbourne and it would be good to get that kinda crowd out there again.”

With a new coaching ticket coming in this year, led by former Munster and Ireland scrum half Tierney, there has been a renewed energy in a squad which includes a number of new players too. Getting used to different calls and signals aside, Stapleton feels it has not been difficult adapting to the new regime.

After four years under Philip Doyle there was always going to be adjustments, but Stapleton added that Tierney and the other new coaches has been proactive and positive in their approach.

“The first one or two weeks, it was new for us just to get around the callings system he (Tierney) wanted to use, or the type of movements and patterns or calls he was putting in place and what type of rugby he wanted us to play. As soon as we started bedding that down, it’s been fine. It’s energetic, I suppose,” admitted the Donegal woman.

“The same in terms of Declan (O’Brien). He’s obviously come in as assistant coach and he works mainly with the forwards but he does a lot of defensive stuff. He keeps it very basic – this is what you must do and I want to see it out of you.

“It is just nice to hear and you can see girls who are listening to what the coaches are saying, applying it on the field, both in training and in matches, which is the main thing.”