Gillian Bourke and Sophie Spence will make their debuts for the Barbarians Women’s team next week, joining fellow former Ireland internationals Nora Stapleton and Marie Louise Reilly in the squad to face the British Army in Aldershot. The foursome played a combined 195 times for Ireland.
Nora Stapleton and Marie Louise Reilly, two stalwarts of the Ireland Women’s side for a number of years, played in the inaugural Barbarians Women’s match at a wet Thomond Park last November, helping the invitational outfit claim a 19-0 win over Munster.
Experienced hooker Gillian Bourke was in Munster red that night but she will don the famous black and white hooped jersey in the Baa Baas’ second ever fixture on Saturday week (March 17), along with former World Rugby Women’s Player of the Year nominee Sophie Spence who announced her international retirement in December.
In addition, New Zealand’s Kayla Ahki (former McAlister) will join her brother Luke in the Barbarians’ record books when she lines out against the Army at Army Rugby Stadium on Queen’s Avenue. Admission to the match in Aldershot on St. Patrick’s Day (kick-off 3pm) is free.
Ahki will complete the first brother-sister combination to represent the club after former All Black Luke appeared for the Baa Baas against Australia at Twickenham in 2009.
There are eight different countries represented in a second outing for the Barbarians Women’s team, with the home nation contingent joined by Ahki, Nora Baltruweit (Germany), Isabel Rico Vazquez (Spain) and Jessica Wooden (USA).
“It’s a huge honour to be invited and I’m sure it’ll be a great environment, lots of camaraderie and the chance to play with lots of new people – it’s quite exciting to play with people you’d normally play against,” said Ahki, who won a 2016 Olympic silver medal with the New Zealand Sevens side in Rio de Janeiro.
“Luke tells me it’s a great opportunity to play without any pressure and very cool to meet all the new guys. It’ll be a very different style of play and great fun.”
Ahki moved to Galway with 10 month-old daughter Stella and husband Pita Ahki, who plays for Connacht, and made her 15-a-side debut for Galwegians against Blackrock in the Women’s All-Ireland last month.
Nine of the players from the first Baa Baas game in Limerick reappear, including Thomond Park try scorer Georgina Roberts. Saracens hooker Katharine Evans is the uncapped player and the newly-selected squad includes a dozen who have played in the Tyrrell’s Premier 15s League this season.
“It’s a very talented squad, quite experienced too and having many of those who played against Munster will give us some continuity,” said Barbarians head coach Giselle Mather. “More importantly, I’m sure they’ll be able to play the Barbarians way with skilful backs and powerful forwards, and that’s what excites me about the group.
“We’ll have our first players from the USA, Germany and Spain and it’s brilliant to get other countries involved. The word gets around, more people want to get involved and it keeps on raising the bar.”
BARBARIANS WOMEN’S Squad (v Army) – Backs (10): Abigail Chamberlain (Richmond/England) 9, Elen Evans (Caernarfon/Wales) 73, Sydney Gregson (Bristol/England) 3, Vicki Jackson (Wasps/England) 2, Kayla Ahki (Galwegians/New Zealand) 20, Sian Moore (Worcester/Wales) 19, Georgina Roberts (DMP Sharks/England) 15, Nora Stapleton (Old Belvedere/Ireland) 50, Tina Veale (Wasps/England) 2, Jessica Wooden (Harlequins/USA) 13.
Forwards (12): Tracey Balmer (Worcester/Scotland) 43, Nora Baltruweit (Wasps/Germany) 2, Claire Cripps (Wasps/England) 43, Catrin Edwards (Llandaff North/Wales) 25, Katharine Evans (Saracens) *, Amy Garnett (Saracens/England) 100, Rosemarie Jermine (Lichfield/England) 27, Marie Louise Reilly (Old Belvedere/Ireland) 54, Isabel Rico Vazquez (Olimpico de Pozuelo/Spain) 27, Sophie Spence (Old Belvedere/Ireland) 40, Rachel Taylor (Caernarfon/Wales) 67, Gillian Bourke (UL Bohemians/Ireland) 51.
* Denoted uncapped player at international level
BARBARIANS WOMEN’S Management – Head Coach: Giselle Mather (Wasps); Assistant Coach: Liza Burgess (Gloucester-Hartpury); Manager: Fiona Stockley; Assistant Manager: Susie Brown; Physio: Alex Hunter