Much is expected of the Irish women today as they take to the fast-paced 4G surface at Donnybrook for the first time in the Six Nations, but captain Niamh Briggs as warned her players that they must make the Dublin venue a fortress.
The fixture against Wales (1pm) represents the start of a new chapter for the Women’s game as they leave Ashbourne, their old home in Meath, behind and enter the more accessible Donnybrook ground in the heart of the capital.
The success and growth of the women’s game has been well documented, but now they get their own stand-alone fixture and venue more suited to international sport.
“When you step out onto Donnybrook’s pitch, it’s unbelievable, it’s like a huge cushion. It’s a faster pitch so naturally you want to run and it gives you that freedom to do that,” Briggs said.
“It’s really exciting, I hear the tickets are selling really well. What we want to do is grab the people beyond our friends and family and broaden [out support]. Donnybrook is just so much more accessible and then you’ve got people who are up for the weekend [for the men’s game] so it’s exciting.”
Despite the enthusiasm that exists around the artificial surface at Donnybrook, Briggs is keen to ensure that it does not become an open invitation to opponents to open the throttles when they come to Dublin.
“We need to go and make it as much of a fortress as we had in Ashbourne because teams hated going there and we loved to play there and that’s what we’ve got to shift to Donnybrook and make it as uncomfortable for away teams as we can,” added the Munster and UL Bohemian full-back.
Head coach Tom Tierney knows that with greater spotlight and improved resources, more will be expected of his team, but the former international believes the women can better express themselves on the 4G pitch and play a brand of rugby that will bring in new supporters.
“We’re pushing to grow the game and now it’s our turn to put in a performance with a style of rugby that will pay off and show people that these players are serious and they know how to play,” Tierney said.
“It’s the best 4G pitch I’ve seen in a long time, both here and abroad, and it’s going to lend itself to a quality type of game and a quality type of rugby. No matter the quality of a grass pitch you can’t match the quickness of the game, the speed of the game [on an artificial surface].
“Players realise when they’re on a 4G pitch they do things a little bit differently and a bit better and they’re more expansive in how they go about things. It’s a huge plus for us albeit we have to be very good from a defensive point of view because other teams will come and try to play as well.”
Nikki Caughey is one of those players who can be expected to revel in the conditions with Briggs putting the rookie out-half among “the most skillful players I’ve ever played with”.
Caughey joins nine other players in the match-day squad who are set to make their Six Nations debuts as Ireland set about defending their title with a number of changes to their back division because of call-ups to the Sevens programme.
N Briggs (capt); E O’Byrne White, A Donnelly, S Naoupu, M Coyne; N Caughey, L Muldoon; A Egan, Z Grattage, R O’Reilly; S Spence,, ML Reilly; P Fitzpatrick, C Molloy, H O’Brien Replacements: C Moloney, L Peat, F Reidy, C Cooney, C Griffin, M Healy, N Stapleton, J Shiels.
A Taviner; E Evans, K Lake, H Jones, B Dainton; R Wilkins, K Bevan; M York, C Phillips, A Evans; R Rowe, S Harries, R Taylor (capt), S Williams, S Powell-Hughes.
A Price, C Edwards, C Hale, S Lillicrap, A Butchers, E Snowsill, G Rowland, D Hywel.
Leah Berard (USA)
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