Ireland Women’s assistant coach Jeff Carter says Cliodhna Moloney and the returning Ashleigh Baxter will bring additional physicality and energy to the home pack when they take on Scotland in the Women’s Six Nations at Donnybrook this afternoon (kick-off 1pm).
Following an impressive cameo performance in the 35-12 success over Wales two weeks ago, Cliodhna Moloney has been restored to the Irish front row at hooker, and after contributing a try in the final quarter of the same match, winger Hannah Tyrrell comes in as the second and final personnel change.
Tyrrell is part of the Ireland Sevens squad along with Ashleigh Baxter, who is named on the bench alongside the recalled Louise Galvin, another regular on the World Sevens Series circuit. While Baxter faces stiff competition in a back row that is currently occupied by captain Ciara Griffin, Claire Molloy and Paula Fitzpatrick, Jeff Carter has confidence in the ability of the winger-turned-flanker.
“Cliodhna had been involved against the French and had been carrying a bit of a shoulder injury against the Italians, so it’s great to have her back and her shoulder seems to be very good. She’s a very robust player, very good around the park and she plays almost like another six or seven. Very physical and confrontational,” said Carter, whose main coaching responsibility is the Ireland pack.
“Ashleigh is a tough girl. The back row is the place for her. We trained last night (Thursday) and she’s destructive. She plays like a real seven. She likes to get herself in over the ball to jackal and she’s vivacious. That energy is phenomenal.”
In addition to various roles within Leinster’s underage structures, Carter has been heavily involved in the schools system with Kilkenny College. After 11 years as head coach of their Senior Cup team, he is now in charge of the first year side. He has also overseen the development of Women’s rugby in the secondary school, where a future Ireland international was given her first taste of the game.
“We’ve had a girls team in the school for close to nearly 20 years. We’ve got nearly 50 girls at the moment playing rugby in school, but just getting games for them is the hard thing. A lot of the girls are playing hockey as well, and there’s always a bit of give-and-take when we can get them games.
“But a lot of them play in clubs now and (Ireland second row) Nichola Fryday is actually a past pupil of the school, so it’s great to see her coming through after seeing her as a transition year playing in school. It’s nice to see.”
The arrival of Storm Emma and the ‘Beast from the East’ affected Ireland’s preparations for today’s game against Scotland to a certain extent. Whereas they had an opportunity between the Italy and Wales matches to hold a training camp, that was not possible in the days that followed the round 3 clash with the Welsh.
Despite acknowledging that it is not an ideal scenario, Carter can still see some positives from their unexpected break. He explained: “We couldn’t train, there was no way. We had ideas, maybe meet down the country, but bringing the girls away from home wasn’t going to work. But saying that, last night (Thursday) we trained and we trained very well.
“Interestingly, the girls said it’s actually nice to have a little bit of a break. Just to refresh. You know yourself, sometimes that little bit of time off is good to recharge. Obviously it’s nice to meet every week to be able to just think about the game the previous week. We’re obviously reviewing two weeks later now, which isn’t great in itself.”
A key feature of Ireland’s forward play in recent weeks has been their skill level in open play. This was exemplified by openside Claire Molloy’s second try against Wales, which featured key contributions from recent new caps Laura Feely and Edel McMahon and skipper Griffin.
With the game of rugby continuing to evolve, Carter is adamant that a pack should have players with strong ball-handling ability. “My philosophy over the years has always been to try to have forwards that can play rugby and link with backs,” he noted. “I suppose not to be just seen as players that pick and drive, or crash-bang-wallop kind of rugby. They have to do that at times, but for me you could see it in that last try that Claire scored against the Welsh.
“It started with Laura, Edel and Ciara Griffin, the ball was moved and then you’ve got someone like Claire Molloy who is almost standing out on the wing. That’s the way the game is played now. At set piece, the lineout is still a work in progress. We’ve got new girls coming in.
“We lost Ciara (Cooney) to injury, we lost Nichola (Fryday), so those two girls were running the lineout. It was a case of girls experiencing different roles in the lineout. (Orla Fitzsimons and Aoife McDermott) have stepped up well and we’re getting better every time.”