Sport Rugby

Thursday 12 December 2019

O'Byrne-White out to prove that hard work pays off as she gets set for Ireland debut

Elise O'Byrne-White (SPORTSFILE)
Elise O'Byrne-White (SPORTSFILE)
Cian Tracey

Cian Tracey

Elise O'Byrne-White was 12 years old when she was forced to quit rugby due to the lack of underage girls teams in Dublin.

For someone who was captaining boys teams, her potential was clear from an early age but she instead turned her attention to hockey - a sport she admits didn't have to same appeal to her because "not hitting people was difficult."

It wasn't until that she went to Trinity College that her rugby career was sparked into life again and she soon joined Old Belvedere, which set her on the international path.

O'Byrne-White is one of three uncapped players in today's match-day squad when Ireland begin their Six Nations defence against Wales at Donnybrook (1.00pm) but her youthful exuberance is something that coach Tom Tierney has been looking to add to the set-up.


Without being able to select the Sevens players, the door has been opened for several fresh faces such as O'Byrne-White and although the lure of the Olympic dream was understandably strong for some, she has goals of her own.

"For me, no it wasn't," she says of her decision to opt against playing Sevens.

"I think 15s is the game for me. I've never been drawn to the Olympics. It's just not something I ever looked at. I've always looked up to the girls playing Six Nations.

"I've always looked up to the likes of Lynne Cantwell and Fi Coghlan. I just think the Six Nations is the most magical tournament in the world - that and the World Cup. That's my Olympics.

"I'm really excited. I can't really believe it. You don't ever really think it's going to come and you're never guaranteed it.

"I don't think you get what you deserve in sport a lot of the time. You can work so hard and sometimes you still might not get there.

"But when you get the opportunity, it makes it all the more special."

The 25-year-old winger has been on the edge of the squad for the last couple of seasons as she looks to play catch-up from an ACL injury suffered in 2012, which hampered her progression.

Ireland's back-line, aside from captain Niamh Briggs and scrum-half Larissa Muldoon, has very much got a new look to it but up front, seven of the starting forwards helped them win the Championship last year.

That experience is something that Tierney was keen to point out this week as Ireland look to expand their squad ahead of next year's World Cup which will of course be held on these shores.

Zoe Grattage will also make her debut from the start as the hooker takes her place in an experienced front-row alongside Ailis Egan and Ruth O'Reilly.

Last year's World Rugby Player of the Year nominee Sophie Spence (second-row) will be looking to replicate her form from last season, while the highly rated Sene Naoupu (wife of Connacht flanker George) takes her place at inside centre.

"Coming in with a lot to learn is scary but it's also exciting because you're playing with the best players in the country so it makes you better," O'Byrne-White maintained.

"You're going through everything together for the first time. It's nice knowing that there's someone there who doesn't know what's going on either!


"They (experienced players) have such an understanding of the game that if you don't know what's going on, which is quite a lot of the time, you can ask them and they have the answers. There's no stupid questions, which is lucky for me!"

O'Byrne-White's debut has been a long time coming but now that it has arrived, she is eager to grab the opportunity and help ensure that Ireland get their campaign off to an ideal start. Verdict: Ireland

Ireland - N Briggs (capt); E O'Byrne-White, A Donnelly, S Naoupu, M Coyne; N Caughey, L Muldoon; A Egan, Z Grattage, R O'Reilly; S Spence, M-L Reilly; P Fitzpatrick, C Molloy, H O'Brien. Reps: C Moloney, L Peat, F Reidy, C Cooney, C Griffin, M Healy, N Stapleton, J Shiels.

Wales - A Taviner; E Evans, K Lake, H Jones, B Dainton; R Wilkins, K Bevan; M York, C Phillips, A Evans; R Rowe, S Harries; R Taylor, S Williams, S Powell-Hughes. Reps: A Price, C Edwards, C Hale, S Lillicrap, A Butchers, E Snowsill, G Rowland, D Hywel.

REF - L Beard (USA)

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