Greg McWilliams calls on Ireland ‘show how tight we are as a group’ in Six Nations clash with France

Ireland coaching team, from left, backs coach Niamh Briggs, head coach Greg McWilliams, senior coach John McKee and scrum coach Denis Fogarty during a squad training session at IRFU High Performance Centre at the Sport Ireland Campus in Dublin. Photo by Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile

Sinéad Kissane

Ireland head coach Greg McWilliams says he’s looking for a response from his players when they play France in their second game of the 2023 Women’s Six Nations at Musgrave Park on Saturday.

McWilliams has made five changes to the team that started the 31-5 defeat to Wales in Cardiff last Saturday.

Dannah O’Brien will make her first Six Nations start at out-half with Vicky Irwin replacing the injured Enya Breen in the centre.

There are three changes to the pack. Tighthead prop Christy Haney replaces Sadhbh McGrath with Linda Djougang moving across the front row to loosehead prop.

In the backrow, number 8 Deirbhile Nic A Bhaird replaces Brittany Hogan and Grace Moore starts at openside flanker with no place for Maeve Óg O'Leary in the squad.

There are two debutants on the bench: Exeter Chiefs hooker Clara Nielson and Gloucester-Hartpury prop Kathryn Buggy.

“You’re always looking for a response. There’s no doubt that last Saturday didn’t go well. Like in any sport, the key is how the group can come together and plan for the next challenge,” McWilliams said after naming his team today.

“And this is our next challenge. This is our next opportunity to go out and show how tight we are as a group.”

O’Brien (19) made her first Six Nations appearance off the bench against Wales and she hits another benchmark in her progress with her first start in the tournament this weekend.

After making her debut on the two-test tour of Japan last summer, it will also be O’Brien’s first home international game.

“Dannah is somebody who’s got a very strong kicking game, very skilful, you just want her to be herself. You want her to understand what she’s really good at,” McWilliams added.

“You just want her to play. She’s a really, really talented player. She’s relatively inexperienced but I believe she’s the right person to start at 10 for this week as do the players, as do the rest of the staff. She’s growing all the time.”

“I think Dannah, Vicky (Irwin) and Aoife (Dalton) is an excellent three-quarter line and I just want them to go out and give it a good go.”

Wales overpowered Ireland in the scrum and maul in the first half in Cardiff. France are also known for their power game and strong scrum. McWilliams believes they learned a lot from last weekend.

“When you reflect on the game, there’s no doubt that the players were a bit shocked at the physicality early on,” he said.

"But the way they were able to think for themselves on the field. If you look at Sadhbh, an 18-year-old prop, she problem-solved herself and she was able to come in at half-time and talk really intellectually around the game.

“There’s no doubt that we need to front up against a very physical pack. I thought we learned a huge amount last week against Wales and I think the true test now is how the players respond.

“We’re hearing that there’s going to be close on 6000 at Musgrave Park. That’s 6,000 people that are going there to support an Irish side who know that last week didn’t go well.

"It’s chance for us to show our growth as a group and to show we’re on the right path. I think if we do that, it’s going to be a good day.”