Ireland’s Hannah O’Connor insists ‘tiny little tweaks that can make a huge difference’ against France

Ireland players, from right, Dorothy Wall, Maeve Óg O’Leary, and Hannah O’Connor during a Ireland Women's Rugby squad training session at IRFU High Performance Centre at the Sport Ireland Campus in Dublin. Photo by Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile

Sinéad Kissane

Ireland forward Hannah O’Connor says damage limitation will not be their approach when they take-on World Cup semi-finalists France in the Women’s Six Nations on Saturday.

It will be a first home game of the tournament for Greg McWilliams’ side at Musgrave Park and it comes against one of the top teams in women’s world rugby.

France beat Ireland 40-5 in Toulouse last year while it was a winning margin of 56-15 for France in Donnybrook two years ago.

The last time Ireland beat France in the Women’s Six Nations was in 2017 in a 13-10 win in Dublin with Ireland captain Nichola Fryday the only current player remaining in the squad from that day.

After their bruising 31-5 loss to Wales in the first round last weekend, O’Connor insists they won’t take an attitude of trying to keep the scoreboard low against a French side who’re strong favourites to record their fifth consecutive win over Ireland.

“No, absolutely not. We are not playing a Six Nations game to have that attitude. Our squad is full of youth and exuberance with a mix of senior people as well so it’s a beautiful balance,” she said.

"But we’re definitely not in this competition to make up the numbers or step off the gas.

"No, heads down, see what we can do. It’s those little tweaks that we feel as a squad we’re very confident that’s going to make a big difference for us and how we go about our business on Saturday,” O’Connor said today.

For the second week in a row, Ireland will face a side with a strong scrum and maul with France also equipped with backs who can threaten from open play.

O’Connor believes they’ve fixed the areas of their forward play that Wales exposed last Saturday.

“There’s lots of elements where we feel like we just didn’t quite get it right and we put our hands up to that as a playing group and have the honesty with each other when we came in for those reviews,” she said.

"You’re just looking at attack and defence, where we can be that little bit better. And it’s small changes.

"It’s not panicking and going away from the structures that we know and that we’ve been building over the last while.

"It’s doing things a little bit better. It’s tiny little tweaks that can make a huge difference, whether it’s set-piece, whether it’s line-out scrum, whether it’s attacking phases off set-piece or anything like that.”

A few players ended up switching between different positions due to injuries and substitutions during last Saturday’s second half in Cardiff. O’Connor, a penalty-taking number 8/lock herself, says they’re preparing for anything.

“I would feel comfortable whether it’s number 8 or whether its second row, wherever you’re asked to go to do a job,” she said.

"One of our things that we put our pride on is knowing our detail so we’d be adept at being able to mix and match a little bit.

"So, we’re prepared for that because we know what can happen in a game, anything can happen.

"We saw it with the men’s this year that anything can happen. You’re preparing for all eventualities within reason.”

McWilliams will name his starting team tomorrow to play France on Saturday.