Ireland women’s head coach Adam Griggs has challenged his players to showcase their “world class” credentials in tomorrow’s Six Nations Championship clash with England at Castle Park, Doncaster (kick-off 12.45pm).
Following back-to-back home victories against Scotland and Wales, the Irish have an open shot at securing a Triple Crown in the South Yorkshire venue. They will be rank outsiders against Simon Middleton’s defending champions, but Griggs and his squad are ready for the litmus test that awaits.
“I said it to the group when we came together last night [Thursday]. People can talk about being world class all they like, but they don’t always get the chance to go up against an opposition who is world class. England have been there and they’ve proven it before. This is really where we’re going to judge ourselves,” the New Zealander said.
“It’s great that we’ve had two wins and plenty of learning from those victories, but at the same time this is a team that you want to go and beat. We really, genuinely, have nothing to lose. We’ve got a couple of wins, playing some good rugby. They’ll be tough opposition for sure, but what’s there for us to lose?” Griggs’ starting line-up for the game shows two changes to the team that put Wales to the sword in Donnybrook just under a fortnight ago. Limerick native Aoife Doyle receives a call-up to the left-wing in place of Galway teenager Beibhinn Parsons - who has dropped out of the squad to focus on her upcoming Leaving Cert examinations.
There is also an alteration to the Irish midfield, with Katie Fitzhenry drafted in as a replacement for Blackrock College club-mate Michelle Claffey. Though the Wexford woman will be making her first appearance as a 15s international since March 2018 - a Six Nations defeat to England in Coventry - Griggs had no hesitation throwing her back in at the deep end.
“Katie has come back from Hamilton and Sydney 7s tournaments. At this time, we're looking to give her an opportunity to see what she can do against England. She knows them quite well. Even in my first year  with the group, Katie was part of the starting centre partnership with Sene. It is good to reunite them and see how they go this weekend.” Griggs confirmed that Claffey’s exclusion from the match day squad was a tactical move on his part with Larissa Muldoon and the returning Hannah Tyrrell offering cover off the bench in a number of positions.
Elsewhere, Eimear Considine and Lauren Delany [one of four English-based players in the starting 15] join Doyle in the back-three while former Cork camogie star Claire Keohane retains her place at out-half.
For the third game in succession, captain Ciara Griffin is joined in a combative back-row by Edel McMahon and Anna Caplice.
There is an abundance of experience throughout the English team with Keohane’s opposite number - Katy Daly-McLean - set to pick up her 113th international cap.
Given they are expected to encounter hazardous conditions on the day, Griggs admitted they can’t allow the Loughborough Lightning place-kicker to dictate the flow of the game.
“We got an email early in the week, warning us that the ground is quite wet. The way the weather has been this week over there, if you are looking at the tactical side, she will manage the game,” Griggs added.
“She has a really good kicking game we need to be aware of. If the weather does come into it, she will try and pin you into the corners. Play territory and make you play out.”