Tuesday 19 September 2017

Eddy defends trio's switch to Sevens

Ireland v France, RTÉ 2, 12.45

IRFU Director of Womens and Sevens Rugby, Anthony Eddy. Photo: Sportsfile
IRFU Director of Womens and Sevens Rugby, Anthony Eddy. Photo: Sportsfile

Aisling Crowe

A whiff of controversy is in the air surrounding this afternoon's Six Nations clash between Ireland and France in Donnybrook (12.45pm). The decision by Anthony Eddy, the IRFU's director of women's and Sevens rugby, to divert three key attackers from Tom Tierney's 15s squad to the Sevens squad for next weekend's round of the World Sevens Series in Las Vegas has angered many supporters.

Influential centre Sene Naoupu, exhilarating winger Alison Miller, who scored against Scotland, and Hannah Tyrrell, whose last-gasp try in L'Aquila secured a bonus-point victory over the Italians, will all be missing from the Irish side that takes on the reigning Six Nations champions this afternoon.

What has annoyed, and worried, so many in the game, is the perceived preferential status given to the Sevens code in a year when Ireland hosts the 15-a-side World Cup. Four years ago in New Zealand Miller scored against the hosts in an historic victory for Irish rugby, and the team went all the way to the semi-finals. With a home World Cup fast approaching and a difficult pool which includes today's opponents, supporters are concerned that the opportunity to build on the success of 2013 has been sacrificed on the altar of Sevens.

Eddy denied this was the case and instead claimed the decision to switch Naoupu, Tyrrell and Miller to the Sevens' squad had been made much earlier in the season.

"Tom and I work closely together every day and work through the selections together," Eddy explained. "This was part of the high performance plan made several months ago and he was well aware of it, he is fine with it and fully understands it."

Eddy also claimed that the three players involved knew in advance that they would be required for the Sevens side, as all three are centrally contracted to the Sevens programme. However, it is understood that members of the Irish 15s team are furious with the decision to remove three vital members of the team for a crucial game.

"They have been spoken to about it for ages, they knew Sene and Ali would be called into the Sevens at some stage during the year. If players are annoyed, which I'm not aware of, that's probably disappointing, because the resources put behind the women's 15 programme have been pretty good and we are in a high performance programme now and you would expect a high level of performance from those players."

The Irish women's set-up remains an amateur side with players fitting in training sessions in the mornings, evenings and weekend around work, college and other commitments. Eddy confirmed that all three players would be available for the remaining Six Nations matches against Wales and England.

On the field, Naoupu's place in the centre will be taken by Ulster and Cooke's Claire McLaughlin while Miller is replaced at 11 by Kim Flood of Railway Union and Leinster, who moves in the opposite direction to the Laois woman, having played in the Dubai and Sydney Sevens tournaments already. Eimear Considine of runaway league leaders UL Bohemians and Munster comes into the side for Tyrrell on the other wing and makes her first start for Ireland. Her club-mate, Louise Galvin, is called up to the bench and is in line to make her international debut.

The welcome return from injury of Sophie Spence (Old Belvedere and Leinster) to the second-row brings energy and experience to the pack.

France lost their opening game of the tournament away to world champions England but recovered to overwhelm Scotland 55-0 in La Rochelle a fortnight ago. Ireland: M Coyne; K Flood, J Murphy, C McLaughlin, E Considine; N Stapleton, M Healy; L Peat, L Lyons, A Egan, S Spence, ML Reilly, C Griffin, C Molloy, P Fitzpatrick

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