Sam Monaghan and Ireland ready to embrace daunting Six Nations challenge

France away in their Six Nations opener a tough assignment for Scott Bemand’s Irish women’s squad

Despite their recent difficulties in this fixture, co-captain Sam Monaghan has insisted Ireland women’s rugby team are fully embracing the challenge of facing France in their Six Nations championship opener at Stade Marie-Marvingt in Le Mans on Saturday (2.15 Irish time).

Since getting the better of them in the third round of the 2017 Six Nations, Ireland have suffered six straight defeats to France – including a World Cup pool stage encounter at UCD later in the same year.

Monaghan started in the second row for their 40-5 defeat in front of 12,000 spectators at Stade Ernest Wallon in Toulouse during the 2022 edition of the championship, before also donning the number five jersey when Les Bleus registered a 53-3 success at Musgrave Park a little under 12 months ago.

Yet the atmosphere that was generated for their most recent trip to France ensured it was an eye-opening experience for Monaghan. And while she stressed that communication will be key in what is expected to be a cauldron-like atmosphere in Le Mans, she is hoping her team-mates can put into practice what they have been working on in the lead-up to the game.

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“I just think it’s an exciting challenge. You’re going away to France. I remember when we played them in Toulouse a couple of years ago, it was like nothing I had ever experienced before.

“The brass band was playing, it snowed in the warm-up and then I got sunburnt by half-time! I was going up in the lineout and the whistles were blowing, I thought it was the referee,” Monaghan recalled of that 2022 clash.

“Our communication skills have to be accurate. Not overemphasising what we’re saying, but being clear and direct. Because on that pitch, with all that noise going [on], we’re going to have to be clear and direct in our communication.

“Just embrace the atmosphere because what better way to showcase what you’ve been doing the last three weeks than in front of all those fans that are there to support French rugby.”

After finishing bottom of last year’s table as a result of suffering five defeats on the bounce, Ireland are hoping for a much better Six Nations campaign in 2024 under former England women’s lead coach Scott Bemand.

Their successful march to an inaugural WXV 3 title in Dubai last October has helped to build confidence within the group and Monaghan acknowledged that she and her international colleagues are eager to prove a point across this year’s championship.

“After any loss, all you want to do is go out the next week and prove what we can do as a squad, and what we have now – the tools and abilities to do so. Every time we put on that green jersey, we’re going in to win that game and perform to the best of our ability. I think, yes, a lot of us are hurt [after last year’s Six Nations], but it will only fuel our performance to play,” she added.

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