Ireland Women’s head coach Adam Griggs believes new cap Juliet Short’s abrasive approach will be a vital ingredient in his side’s quest for victory over England at Twickenham Stadium on Saturday (kick-off 5.40pm).
The Ireland Women’s fourth appearance at Twickenham, following Six Nations fixtures in 2004, 2014 and 2016, is part of a mouth-watering double header involving the Men’s Test match between England and Australia which kicks off at 3pm.
Railway Union and Leinster forward Juliet Short is one of six changes to the starting line-up from last Sunday’s 19-10 defeat to the USA Women’s Eagles, and head coach Adam Griggs feels the 29-year-old’s claims were too strong to ignore.
“It was a very tough decision to leave Juliet out of last weekend,” he admitted. “I think it highlights the strength in our back row at the moment. She was always someone we planned on giving time throughout this November window. Now she gets her chance starting. She’s in a different position at number 8.
“Again that’s a little bit injury enforced, but if you watched Juliet play in the Interpros (for Leinster), she brings physicality. She’s very dynamic on the ball. We’re going to need that to try and get some go-forward this weekend.”
Short comes into the side in place of captain Ciara Griffin who suffered a shoulder injury during last week’s November international opener. Second row Ciara Cooney also misses out after unfortunately dislocating her shoulder during the first half.
Upcoming surgery will keep her on the sidelines for an extended period, which Griggs describes as both a blow for the player and the squad in general. “You saw Ciara Cooney had a dislocated shoulder, so she’s ruled out probably for most of the season now. She’s going to need surgery, so that will keep her out. Really the whole team are gutted for her, because she is the ultimate professional.
“The way she has rehabbed and got back from other injuries to even put herself in this environment again has been huge. For that to happen again, we’re all pretty gutted for her. As I say, if there’s anyone that can handle it, that’s been through it before, Cooney can definitely come back from this. We’re all hoping that she will.”
Joining teenage sensation Beibhinn Parsons, who made history last week as Ireland’s youngest ever senior international, among the replacements is the uncapped Ellen Murphy. While she will don the number 22 jersey worn last week by Claire McLaughlin, the latter is also retained in the matchday squad.
The versatile McLaughlin will offer cover to the much-changed set of loose forwards. The Belfast native has transitioned from a strong-running centre to the back row, featuring heavily at number 8 for Ulster during this season’s Interprovincial campaign.
New Zealander Griggs admitted yesterday that he initially anticipated making this change further down the line, but is excited nevertheless to see what McLaughlin can bring to the base of the Irish scrum.
“She’s a little bit of a hybrid of sorts, where she can play both (back and forward). She played number 8 for Ulster and she was really good in that campaign as well. It’s probably a move at international level quicker than we would have liked, but again there’s no better place to see where someone like Claire is at from a position change of testing her in this environment.
“Because she did stand out for Ulster at number 8 and she’s played some club rugby there as well. Now it’s a chance for her, if she gets on the park, to show that she can do it at international level. She’s someone that, in terms of her athletic ability and what she brings, you don’t want to leave someone like that out of the squad.”
In the absence of Griffin, Sene Naoupu will captain Ireland against the Red Roses. Having led Leinster to their Interprovincial success in September, the dynamic centre, who is set to earn her 28th cap, is an ideal candidate to lead the team against one of the world’s leading teams.
There will also be a strong onus on Claire Molloy to drive the pack forward on Saturday evening, given she plays her club rugby in the English Premiership with Wasps. A veteran of three 15s Rugby World Cups, Molloy was named Women’s Player of the Year – for the second year in succession – at the annual Guinness Rugby Writers of Ireland Awards at the Aviva Stadium last night.
Ahead of her 64th appearance for Ireland, Griggs was full of praise for the outstanding leadership Molloy continues to offer the squad, saying: “.Claire Molloy is a class individual. You even look at what she has to do in terms of her work schedules (as an A&E doctor) and then even playing for Ireland. The performances she puts in for us are huge.
“Even this weekend, she’s got 63 caps at this point. You look at some of our other caps where there’s only 10 or 15 caps. Someone with that experience, who has been in it before, is huge to us. She’s really good at driving the girls on and making sure we’re in the right head-space. Again we’re going to ask that from her this weekend as well.
“She knows this environment, she knows a lot of the players, because she’s played over in England for so long. Again, her experience will be huge for us. Losing Ciara Griffin to injury, we’re going to look for Claire to step up in terms of a leadership role as well.”