Doyle hopeful Irish women can get title defence off to positive start
AFTER bringing a smile to the faces of Irish rugby supporters last year with their Grand Slam heroics, the national women's team begin a hugely significant year with the visit of Scotland to Ashbourne tonight (7.30).
With a World Cup to come later in the summer – where they will face New Zealand in the pool stages and make a first appearance at Lansdowne Road against Italy in March – this year will be a big year for the women's game in this country as they look to capitalise on last year's success.
Due to a combination of injury, retirement and form selections, coach Philip Doyle has shuffled his deck ahead of the visit of Scotland.
Hannah Casey has been called in for her debut, with the Saracens wing joining Jackie Shiels and Alison Miller in the back three.
Regular full-back and place- kicker Niamh Briggs is confined to the replacements' bench having only just recovered from a wrist injury.
Ireland clinched the Triple Crown in this fixture last year, but this time around they are without the experienced Joy Neville at No 8 following her retirement.
Heather O'Brien is given her chance in that position, while at hooker Stacey-Lea Kennedy gets the nod ahead of Gillian Bourke.
"We had a good win against the Scots last year – but we will need to put in a similar performance this time round to get a positive result," said Doyle, whose side have just announced a three-year shirt sponsorship deal with Aon.
"It is great to be starting off the campaign in Ashbourne and, hopefully, we can deliver a strong performance."
Ireland are heavily fancied to prevail here with the Scots naming four new caps in their side.
Ireland – J Shiels; H Casey, L Cantwell, J Murphy, A Miller; N Stapleton, A Davis; F Coghlan, S-Lea Kennedy, A Egan; S Spence, M -Louise Reilly, S Fleming, C Molloy, H O'Brien. Reps: G Bourke, F Hayes, K –Ann Craddock, O Fitzsimmons, P Fitzpatrick, L Muldoon, G Davitt, N Briggs.
Scotland – S Johnston; K Green, A Sergeant, G Inglis, M Gaffney; L Martin, S Law; T Balmer, S Quick, L Smith, J Konkel, D McCormack; T Forsberg, R Slaven, L Wheeler. Reps: N McLeod, L Robertson, H Lockhart, E Wassel, A Stodter, L Dalgliesh, T Griffith, L Steven.