Tierney 'quietly confident' of opening with win in Italy
The dawning of a new era for women's rugby in Ireland it may seem, but a quick look through the starting XV to take on Italy in the Six Nations opener this evening would suggest otherwise.
Former Ireland scrum-half Tom Tierney has replaced the outgoing Philip Doyle as coach but he still has the luxury of being able to call upon the core of the team that finished fourth at last year's World Cup.
It's been a testing time for Tierney as he attempts to integrate the new players into the international set-up but it is a challenge that has fully immersed himself in, despite his other coaching roles with Cork Constitution in the AIL and Glenstal Abbey in the Munster Schools Senior Cup.
"There's a lot of senior players still there and there are some new, more raw players coming through. One thing we were very conscious of during the camps was to balance up the training ages," Tierney admitted.
"A lot of girls have eight years of rugby under their belt and that's worth their weight in gold because they're so dedicated, they're always learning.
"You've other girls who have come in, and a lot are coming from Gaelic games backgrounds. They're superb athletes but they're learning the game and for a couple of them, this is only their first year playing rugby in the international set-up," he explained.
Amongst the new players included in tomorrow's match day squad is Sene Naoupu, wife of Connacht back-row, George.
After suffering a shoulder injury with the Ireland Sevens team last year in San Diego, her international debut will come from the bench but Tierney rates her very highly.
"She has all the skills, she really has. She missed a bit of prep but she looks very promising and can play across the backline. That versatility is huge and she looks to be a star in the making."
Ireland's Sevens team have been working separate to the international side for the last year and despite several players playing both codes, Tierney is eager to ensure that there isn't any friction between the two.
The likes of Jenny Murphy and Alison Miller have impressed in both codes, while former Dublin goalkeeper Hannah Tyrrell, who starts on the right wing this evening, was drafted into the squad on the back on strong performances on the Sevens circuit.
"Hannah has been going really well and seems to be learning the game and soaking it up like a sponge. She's been very impressive within camp and also in her time with the Sevens.
"I know from the experience as a player and from being in other countries that there is a potential there for a divide between a senior team and a Sevens team.
"We've been very astute in trying to make sure that isn't an issue and, in fairness, it hasn't been because all the girls get on well and they all want the same thing," Tierney added.
Come eight o'clock tomorrow evening, Tierney will have a better idea of what shape his squad is in after what is the first game of a new World Cup cycle.
Newly-appointed captain Niamh Briggs continues at full-back, while there is plenty of other experience throughout the side with the likes of Nora Stapleton, Gillian Bourke and Marie Louise Reilly all starting.
"We've done a bit of homework on them (Italy) obviously and they like to play," Tierney said.
"They're very strong up front and very aggressive. They're a traditional Italian forward pack but they also have backs who can play.
"We're going into the unknown because we haven't gone into a Six Nations as a collective before but we're quietly confident."
The quality that remains within the side means that Ireland should certainly be confident of getting the not-so-new era off to an ideal start.
Ireland - N Briggs; H Tyrrell, J Murphy, J Shiels, A Miller; N Stapleton, L Muldoon; R O'Reilly, G Bourke, A Egan; M L Reilly, S Spence; P Fitzpatrick, C Molloy, H O'Brien. Reps: S Mimnagh, F Hayes, F O'Brien, O Fitzsimons, K Norris, T Rosser, K Fitzhenry, S Naoupu.