Wales ahead of us but Ireland are stronger too, insists Greg McWilliams

Head Coach Greg McWilliams during Ireland women's squad training at the IRFU High Performance Centre in Dublin this week. Photo: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile

Greg McWilliams

thumbnail: Head Coach Greg McWilliams during Ireland women's squad training at the IRFU High Performance Centre in Dublin this week. Photo: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile
thumbnail: Greg McWilliams
Sinéad Kissane

Ireland head coach Greg McWilliams has admitted that Wales are further along in their development compared to his side going into their opening game of the Women’s Six Nations at Cardiff Arms Park tomorrow.

McWilliams also believes that the absence of high-profile Irish sevens players for this tournament will help improve the depth of players available to play in future Six Nations and World Cups.

McWilliams has named one debutante in his team – 18-year-old Ulster prop Sadhbh McGrath – in a starting side that shows eight changes to the team that started last year’s Six Nations opener against Wales. Sevens players like Amee-Leigh Murphy Crowe and Beibhinn Parsons are not included in the squad for this campaign as they focus on trying to qualify with the sevens team for next year’s Paris Olympics.

This is the first time an Ireland Women’s Six Nations team will feature IRFU-contracted 15s players, while it’s the second year that Wales have a professionalised set-up.

While Ireland did not qualify for the World Cup, Wales reached the quarter-final of last year’s tournament where they were beaten by the eventual winners, New Zealand.

McWilliams believes Wales are ahead in their development.

“Yeah, they are. Even if you watch their players play in the Prem (Premier 15s) the level of coaching and competition over there is very strong. Of the 23 Welsh players that are in their squad, not one of them plays in Wales. They all play in the Premiership,” McWilliams said.

“They are going to be stronger. But we’re stronger. We’re picking absolutely the best players that are available that suit our DNA, that suit the direction we’re going in.

“I’m so excited to see these players play and how they do. And they’re going to learn a huge amount, win or lose. And our job, just like Andy Farrell’s coaching and player group a year and a half ago, we want to get to the point of winning Grand Slams. I’m here. I want to win Grand Slams. I want to be competing at World Cups.”

In a much-changed backline from the one that started last year’s 19-27 defeat to Wales, out-half Nicole Cronin is the only starting back that remains from that day.

Full-back Méabh Deely, centre Aoife Dalton and winger Natasja Behan will feature for the first time in the Six Nations after making their international debuts in Japan last August.

The uncapped Leinster prop Niamh O’Dowd is set to make her debut off the bench, which has a 6:2 split of forwards and backs.

McWilliams believes the absence of the sevens stars means more valuable game-time for other players.

“We want them to go to an Olympic Games. We want them to be competitive, we want them to win an Olympic medal. We also want to win a Six Nations and we want to compete at the top end in World Cups. The best way to do that is to improve our depth of players.

“By us not having those players who would have played for us last year, it gives us an opportunity to give people the chance to be in the match arena and to see how they cope, and you’ve got to improve your depth of players.”