Co-captain Sam Monaghan was ‘extremely proud’ of how the three new caps acquitted themselves as the Ireland Women (sponsored by Aon) overwhelmed Kazakhstan in their opening WXV3 fixture in Dubai.
Eimear Corri made her debut at half-time, replacing Monaghan at lock and grasping the opportunity to call the lineout, while front rowers Megan Collis and Sarah Delaney also got their first taste of international rugby during the final quarter.
It was a special night for Delaney in particular, as she was on the end of a 74th-minute maul to mark her debut with a try. The 18-year-old hooker has enjoyed a rapid rise from Cill Dara and PortDara through to the Leinster and Ireland age-grade and senior programmes.
There will certainly be much tougher tests down the line, but as first caps go, this was an encouraging start to all three’s Test careers under new head coach Scott Bemand.
Monaghan was especially pleased for former Ireland Under-18 Sevens winger Corri, who only had her first season in the second row with Blackrock College in 2021/22.
Speaking after the record 109-0 win over Kazakhstan, she said: “The lineout went well. Neve (Jones) has been working on her throwing and we’ve been getting loads of reps in at training. I have to say, Eimear, who has never called in a lineout before, came right up to me and said, ‘I want to do this’.
“She excelled out there this evening. I couldn’t have been prouder of her, sitting on the bench. She did exactly what she needed to do. I remember my first cap, I was a bag of nerves, but she seemed cool, calm and collected. I was really proud of her.”
Monaghan added: “The players on debut seemed calm and stuck to the game model. Sarah had a lovely little ‘silver’ out the back. Meg brought that powerful energy that she has. Corri ran a lineout which is very difficult to do on an international stage.
“I’m extremely proud of them and I can’t wait to hear their songs later. I think Sarah has two actually because she scored as well, so she’ll have to sing two!”
It was important for Ireland to get back to winning ways, and in resounding fashion, after last season’s sixth place finish in the TikTok Women’s Six Nations. Their most recent victory was in the first Test of the 2022 tour to Japan.
Having only scored three tries during the entire 2023 Championship, it was pleasing to see Ireland begin their inaugural WXV campaign with a 17-try rout, albeit with Kazakhstan currently ranked 18th in the world.
There was also a great mix to the scores, with five backs and five forwards crossing the Nomads’ whitewash. The penultimate one, which saw Delaney driven over from Kazakhstan’s 22-metre line, would have been the pick of the bunch for senior coach John McKee and scrum coach Denis Fogarty.
McKee and Fogarty have been working closely with Delaney since her call-up to the WXV training squad for the preparatory camps. She has followed in the footsteps of Ulster prop Sadhbh McGrath, who was also capped by Ireland at the tender age of 18 last March.
Trying to sum up her feelings afterwards, Delaney told Irish Rugby TV: “I can’t really put it into words, to be honest. I think it’s after being the best day of my life. It’s been such an honour to even get the cap. Getting the try was just the icing on top.
It’s just an unreal experience to be playing with the girls. They’ve been absolutely huge, and all the management too. All their help and support has been amazing, and I definitely couldn’t have took to that pitch tonight without them.
“I really appreciate that and it’s been a huge learning experience. It’s my first year playing senior rugby this year, and first time in a set-up like this.
“It’s been amazing so far, learning new things every training session and just striving to get better. I’m really looking forward to the two tasks ahead (against Colombia and Spain), and to hit the ground running at training on Monday.”
Meanwhile, with players like the Leinster forward trio pushing through to international level, Monaghan is happy to be shedding tears for the right reasons as the girls in green look to get back on track after that winless Six Nations run.
“When Sarah came on and scored that forwards try, I had tears in my eyes, just with what we’ve been through the last six months,” said the Gloucester-Hartpury lock, who agreed with Bemand that they have ‘plenty to work on’ for their next two games.
“It is taking a turning point and I know everybody is on a different journey here, but the new girls are coming in and bringing us that next level up. I’m proud of everyone buying into this new training identity and this new squad.”
Making a big impact on their return to 15s international rugby were Eve Higgins and Béibhinn Parsons, who scored four tries each. Their last involvement was during the 2022 Six Nations, but they were back with a bang as their Sevens-honed speed and skills were too much for Kazakhstan.
Higgins and Parsons play in Dubai every year with Ireland as part of the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series (now known as the HSBC SVNS), and Monaghan was delighted to see the fleet-footed pair light up the Irish attack in the desert heat.
“They’re phenomenal athletes and an injection of pace (for us). They’re really bought into our whole system of what we’re trying to do, on and off the field, and our training identity.
“It’s great to have them back. They are very much leaders on the pitch also, and I think they played outstanding this evening,” she added.