Six Nations: Key players to watch

Six Nations: Key players to watch
HerSport Editor
HerSport Editor

Ireland’s TikTok Six Nations Campaign kicks off on March 25th where they head to Cardiff to face Wales.

Ireland manager Greg McWilliams has announced a 32-player squad as Ireland attempt to improve on last year’s fourth-place finish.

The Wales game will have particular importance if Ireland are to improve their standings, especially given the perceived performance gap that exists with current champions England and second-placed France.

Eight uncapped players are included in the squad with four more returning from injury. Eleven of the squad are professionally contracted players and this blend of experience and exciting new prospects should see Ireland in the mix for a competitive campaign. The team will be captained once again by Nichola Fryday.

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Last year’s stand-out players Neve Jones and Sam Monaghan will hopefully bring similar levels of performance at 2nd Row and Hooker respectively; but here’s our take on six more Irish players to watch in the 2023 Women’s Six Nations.

1.Old Belvedere’s Niamh O’Dowd is in the running for her first cap. The loose-head prop has had a stand-out season so far with her club and Leinster. She showed her versatility in this season’s inter-provincial campaign, moving from prop to blind-side flanker in Leinster’s first game following an injury to Ali Coleman. Her ball-carrying and fitness were also noteworthy in that competition and will bring an added dimension to Greg McWilliams’ squad.

Niamh O'Dowd

Photo by Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile

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2. Deirbhle Nic a Bhaird returns to the Irish set-up this year after a break. Previously capped at hooker, Nic a Bhaird has also played Rugby 7s for Ireland. She returns to this years Six Nations squad on the back of a sensational AIL season for Old Belvedere and two player of the match performances at number 8 for Munster in their inter-provincial campaign. This time out, expect her to feature prominently in Ireland’s backline.

Deirbhile Nic a Bhaird

Photo by Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile

3. Molly Boyne is one of eight uncapped players included in the squad but given her form with Railway this season, can reasonably hope to make an impact on Ireland’s campaign. Boyne started the season playing with the Railway Juniors, but outstanding performances in the back-row made her an automatic starter for both the senior team and Leinster.

Molly Boyne

Photo by Seb Daly/Sportsfile

4. Despite her youth, 23 year-old Enya Breen brings leadership and experience to the Ireland backline. Breen missed Leinster’s interprovincial campaign after a leg injury forced her off against Ulster in January. She returned for the final game of the Combined Provinces Celtic Challenge in February and has fought her way back into contention at inside centre. Also an option at 10, Breen’s kicking game brings breadth to Ireland’s attack. Her performances in leading her club Blackrock to the AIL League title this year suggest she will have a major bearing on any Irish success this time out.

Enya Breen

Photo by Matt Browne/Sportsfile

5. Belvedere’s Aoife Dalton was recently voted Leinster’s player of the year by her team-mates. Dalton was capped on the Japan Summer Tour in 2022. While the Offaly youngster stands a relatively dimunitive 5’.2”, her on-pitch presence has commentators likening her to the Lynne Cantwell of this generation of players. One to keep an eye on and undoubtedly a star in the making.

Aoife Dalton

Photo by Ben McShane/Sportsfile

6. Aoife Wafer is one the IRFU centrally contracted players in the squad. As yet uncapped, a niggling calf injury kept her out of action before Christmas for the majority of the League, but she returned at inside centre for the final game of the Celtic Challenge. That appearance, and current club form with Blackrock rightfully earn her a place in the extended squad. Wafer will only turn 20 during this campaign and having recently moved from forwards to backs, she offers versatility and cover across a number of positions for McWilliams. Expect her to make an impact.

Aoife Wafer

Photo by Michael P Ryan/Sportsfile

All of Ireland's games for the 2023 Six Nations will be broadcast live across both RTÉ and Virgin Media services, with their first game against Wales taking place on Saturday March 25th at 2.15pm from Cardiff Arms Park. We will be hosting a watch party, details below!

By Louise Ryan

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