Six Nations: Clíodhna Moloney named in replacements as Ireland make one change for Wales game

Flanker Edel McMahon who missed the Italian match returns to the backrow with Aoife Wafer reverting to blindside flanker

Clíodhna Moloney’s imminent return to Test match rugby after two-and-a-half years was the primary topic of conversation ahead of Saturday’s Six Nations Championship match against Wales at Musgrave Park (4.45pm, live on Virgin Media).

Ireland head coach Scott Bemand made one change to the starting team from the one that lost 26-21 to Italy at the RDS, flanker Edel McMahon – she is a co-captain alongside Sam Monaghan – who missed the Italian match returns to the backrow with Aoife Wafer reverting to blindside flanker. Grace Moore drops out of the matchday 23.

Moloney’s last game for Ireland, her 31st cap, was in November 2021 as she was dropped for comments made criticising former IRFU director of women’s rugby Anthony Eddy ahead of the 2022 Six Nations Championship.

Galway native Moloney, currently playing with the Exeter Chiefs in the English Premiership, returned to the wider squad for this match and has now been promoted to the 23, a decision prompted by the shoulder injury sustained by Sarah Delaney.

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There is a first cap in the offing for Ealing Trailfinders Shannon Ikahihifo, who came through the Irish Qualified (IQ) system and is named on the bench. Fullback Lauren Delany, stretchered off in the RDS, but has recovered to take her place.

Irish defence coach Declan Danaher was asked about Moloney’s return at the media briefing. He said: “She has got her head down, worked hard, obviously had to learn new lineout calls and then a couple of bits and pieces around how we are going to attack against Wales this weekend. She has just got on and done her job. It’s been a good week. We have enjoyed having her in.”

Moloney’s return strengthens the group and instigates role reversal as when she was first choice Neve Jones was her understudy, a situation that’s been flipped over. Danaher continued: “We have been keeping an eye on her [Moloney].

“We had an injury to Sarah Delaney so then there was a need to bring a hooker in and it was an opportunity to bring Clíodhna in. The first two days was getting her head around what the learning would be like for her in terms of her lineout, attack, and defence, point of view. Would she be in a place to be involved? She definitely did that.

“Neve is playing incredibly well. It’s great to have two hookers who are playing in the Women’s Premiership in England and at a very high standard.”

Danaher agreed that making just one change to the starting team was a vote of confidence per se for the group that took on Italy and several positive aspects of the performance despite the defeat. He said: “We have looked back this week, reviewed on Monday as a group on how we take some of the lessons from that Italy game and make sure that we apply them against Wales.

“I think we had a pretty decent first 20 minutes, we probably just didn’t come away with enough points for the territory and the possession we had. The good thing is that we are creating those opportunities, it would be far worse if we weren’t. It’s how we can convert one or two of those to give ourselves momentum.”

Ireland will need to clean up their attack in handling and passing terms if they are to make the most of the threat that wings Béibhinn Parsons and Katie Corrigan can pose. Danaher said: “That’s definitely something that we have spoken about. The days are gone of just hanging out on your wing. You see the best wingers are constantly looking for work.

“Their ability to create is linked with the 10 or the playmaker to get them [the wings] extra touches. Béibhinn and Katie are two of our quickest players and we want to get them on the ball as much as possible. It is encouraging that, in training and challenging them to get touches.

“We know that if we can get them on the ball, they are incredibly dangerous and the likelihood of us creating line-breaks or scoring [improves].”

Meanwhile Wales head coach Ioan Cunningham has made four changes from the team that lost 46-10 against England in Bristol a fortnight ago. Jasmine Joyce returns on the wing, Keira Bevan at scrumhalf, Sisilia Tuipulotu starts at tighthead while Kate Williams comes in at blindside flanker.

Ireland: L Delany (Sale Sharks); K Corrigan (Old Belvedere/Leinster), E Higgins (Railway Union), 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); A Wafer (Blackrock College/Leinster), E McMahon (Exeter Chiefs), B Hogan (Old Belvedere/Ulster). Replacements: C Moloney (Exeter Chiefs), N O’Dowd (Old Belvedere/Leinster), S McGrath (Cooke/Ulster), F Tuite (Old Belvedere/Ulster), S Ikahihifo (Ealing Trailfinders/), M Scuffil-McCabe (Leinster), N Fowley (Galwegians/Connacht), A Dalton (Old Belvedere /Leinster).

Wales: J Hesketh; J Joyce, H Jones (capt), K Lake, C Cox; L George, K Bevan; G Pyrs, C Phillips, S Tuipulotu; A Fleming, G Evans; A Butchers, A Callender, B Lewis. Replacements: M Reardon, A Constable, D Rose, N John, G Hopkins, S Jones, K Powell, C Keight.

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