‘I would call Danah a games-playing outhalf’ - O’Brien backed for Six Nations success

Ireland’s starting XV does not include four of starting team that lost 38-17 to France in opening Six Nations game in Le Mans

Women’s Six Nations: Ireland v Italy, RDS, Sunday, 3pm — Live on RTÉ 2

Ireland women’s head coach Scott Bemand is a man with a plan, one that didn’t include four of the starting team that lost 38-17 to France in the opening Six Nations game in Le Mans.

The changes mean last week’s captain Edel McMahon and Hannah O’Connor drop out of the match-day 23, Aoife Dalton rerouted from centre to the bench, while secondrow Sam Monaghan is fit again after injury and will lead the side from the secondrow.

Grace Moore moves from the bench to a place at blindside flanker. Dannah O’Brien is the preferred starting option at 10 this week, swapping places with Nicole Fowley, who is named among the replacements.

Bemand road-tested a mission statement about selection. “As we move towards professionalism, we will pick the strongest groups game by game. This is a selection for Italy. It definitely doesn’t rule people out going forward.” He explained that there had been some tough conversations and perhaps none more so that one telling Dalton that she wouldn’t be in the starting team.

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The young Old Belvedere centre was outstanding for large tranches of the game against France, but she lost out to Enya Breen, playing her first Test match in over a year.

Bemand explained: “We have to get our game going, we’ve got to launch, play in the right areas. Enya is pretty key to that. How she has been going in training, how she has been bringing that side of life to the game has been really, really important. She is also a good baller.

“She is a good games player, a good triple threat, good carry, distribute, kick, so she has got good scanning, can see good opportunities. She knows how to bring those bits to life.

“Aoife didn’t do anything wrong last week. Aoife is a really, really important player for us. There is a split of how we think the game will go. We think we will be in a strong position to start with Enya and bring Aoife into the fray when the time is right.”

The Irish head coach also offered some perspective on what O’Brien and Monaghan will bring. “Dannah’s a real talent. For someone so young she has had a fair few experiences. I would call Dannah a games-playing flyhalf. She has a great footballing pedigree with the boot, and she sees spaces. She is very, very good at manipulating defences, very good at bringing our backs into the game. So I think it is a great opportunity for her to put her best foot forward and drive the show.

“Sam’s a massive player for us both in terms of leadership and the set piece, particularly the lineout. She has been working really hard. I think you can see the confidence for the girls in having her back in, in the set piece and around the pitch.”

The top three teams in the Six Nations will qualify for the World Cup by right and Bemand acknowledged: “If you win three games you can take that into your own hands, so it is an important part of it. In terms of is it an absolute? Our performance will do the talking or us. We believe our performance will get us a win.”

Italy have made several changes from the side beaten 48-0 by England in Parma. Centre Michela Sillari is out with a broken leg sustained in the “croc-roll” incident in which England number eight Sarah Beckett received a red card and subsequently, what might be considered a rather lenient three-match ban.

Giulia Cavina is also missing because of injury and is replaced by Ilaria Arrighetti at number eight. Beatrice Rigoni moves across to outside centre, with Emma Stevanin promoted from the bench to join her in the midfield.

Silvia Turani switches from hooker to loosehead prop, with Vittoria Vecchini making her first match-day squad, wearing the number two jersey. Sara Tounesi switches from lock to blindside flanker, as Isabella Locatelli drops to the bench. Italy like to play with width and tempo and are fond of an offload.

There was plenty to admire in the attitude, work-rate and grit Ireland showed in their defeat to France. A smoother functioning lineout and a better attuned attack are performance goals at an RDS that is close to sold out.

Bemand acknowledged: “We have pushed really hard and the culture and the environment we have tried to create embraces challenge. We spoke about walking towards pressure, so we know what this game entails.

“You can look at it as an opportunity. It’s our first chance in Ireland to play as a team and show what we can do. That’s sort of been the mindset, that we can go and attack it.”

IRELAND: L Delany (Sale Sharks); K Corrigan (Old Belvedere/Leinster), E Higgins (Railway Union/Leinster), E Breen (Blackrock College/Munster), B Parsons (Blackrock College/Connacht); D O’Brien (Old Belvedere/Leinster), A Reilly (Blackrock College/Connacht); L Djougang (Old Belvedere/Leinster), N Jones (Gloucester-Hartpury), C Haney (Blackrock College/Leinster); D Wall (Blackrock College/Munster), S Monaghan (Gloucester-Hartpury, capt); G Moore (Saracens), A Wafer (Blackrock College/Leinster), B Hogan (Old Belvedere/Ulster).

Replacements: S Delaney (Blackrock College/Leinster), N O’Dowd (Old Belvedere/Leinster), S McGrath (Cooke/Ulster), F Tuite (Old Belvedere/Ulster), E Corri (Blackrock College/Leinster), M Scuffil-McCabe (Leinster), N Fowley (Galwegians/Connacht), A Dalton (Old Belvedere/Leinster).

ITALY: V Ostuni Minuzzi; A Muzzo, B Rigoni, E Stevanin, A D’Inca; V Madia, S Stefan; S Turani, V Vecchini, S Seye; V Fedrighi, G Duca; S Tounesi, F Sgorbini, I Arrighetti.

Replacements: L Gurioli, G Maris, L Gai, I Locatelli, B Veronese, A Frangipani, F Granzotto, B Capomaggi.

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