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Welcome back Clíodhna Moloney, Ireland has missed you

By Anna Caplice
Dublin , Ireland - 2 February 2020; Cliodhna Moloney of Ireland dives over to score her side's first try during the Women's Six Nations Rugby Championship match between Ireland and Scotland at Energia Park in Donnybrook, Dublin. (Photo By Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile via Getty Images)

DING DING! Round three! Thank you to the participants of the European Champions Cup who provided us with some pleasant entertainment while the Women’s Six Nations teams took a well-earned breather before the final run of three games. But now, it’s back to business. Get your fantasy teams ready because this is going to be a cracker of a weekend.

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Despite the Red Roses hosting what looked like a great night at the darts, all was otherwise quiet across the national camps on their down week. A great opportunity to regroup, regather, do some good homework, take some chunks out of each other in training and iron out any wrinkles in performances.

The story goes so far that Scotland are a team on a mission. The champions of WXV2 probably couldn’t be in a better place preparing to host the reigning champions England in a sold-out Hive Stadium in Edinburgh on Saturday. 7,700 tickets have long been off the shelves and it will be a record attendance for Scotland.

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One wonders how many could have been sold if more were available. Nevertheless, a huge achievement for Scottish rugby and a testament to the popularity of this experienced Scottish side who still go without one of their most capped players Jade Konkel who continues rehab on the sidelines.

England make the trip north with the self-made luxury of outstanding strength in depth. Captain Marlie Packer will take a break this weekend and former World Player of the Year Zoe Aldcroft will take the armband.

No matter how many changes England make in their squad, every weekend I find myself saying “Oof that’s some squad!” Both sides are well acquainted with each other through the English PWR and I’m excited to see how far Scotland can push this visiting English side.

Having only just hung on to victory in the last round in Dublin, Italy make another away trip, this time to Paris, to meet their French rivals at the Stade Jean Bouin on Sunday. The European mainlanders will certainly have sniffed out opportunities for attack in each others’ performances as neither seems to have hit top gear yet.

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Both teams still have a big performance in them but with home advantage, I feel like it could be France’s W for the taking as they continue to eye up a grand slam showdown with England in Bordeaux in the final round.

Saturday evening’s game takes place in Cork this week. As a wise Cork man once said “L’opportunité c’est énorme.” As Ronan O’Gara and his troops from La Rochelle vacate the Cork base where they have been training for the week in preparation for their Champions Cup quarter-final versus Leinster, the Irish women move in.

Wales come with a “must-win” mindset and are another side yet to hit top gear this tournament. However, they meet an Irish side who have had an unlikely boost to their squad.

The down week for Ireland went like it did for the other teams in the competition. Quiet and uneventful with not much to report on. Oh! Except for one tiny detail present in the squad update quietly released last week.”Clíodhna Moloney will join the squad for next week’s training at the IRFU performance centre.” This one short sentence might seem innocuous and just like any other detail in a squad update announcement. However, there is huge significance in this group of words.

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Ironically, the last time that Moloney donned the green jersey was also the last time that I wore it. Saturday, the 20th of November 2021. It’s a long time ago. Moloney has continued to perform excellently in the PWR for Exeter Chiefs yet has been deemed “out of form” for the Irish squad for the past two and a half years.

Considering the highest-capped player in the Irish squad is Linda Djougang with 34 caps, they could do with Moloney who trails just behind Djougang with 31 caps. Flicking through the player stats across every other Six Nations squads there are many players with 50+ caps and some nearing and even exceeding 100 caps.

Almost every round in the Six Nations tournament is marked by a milestone achievement by a player reaching 50 or 100 caps. The last time Ireland celebrated a milestone cap was when Nora Stapleton reached the 50 mark during the Rugby World Cup in 2017. Ireland lags so far behind in this area and I sigh when I think of how many Moloney and other retired players could be on now.

Without the intention of opening up old wounds, I want to extend my congratulations to Clíodhna for hopefully winning her 32nd cap for Ireland this weekend. I would also like to thank Clíodhna for sparking something in Irish women’s rugby that had been long overdue.

Many Irish players over the years had made attempts to have their voices and concerns heard by the union, but it never achieved what Moloney’s solitary tweet did. It sparked a revolution that led to a discussion between government, union, management and players and eventual commitment to progress from all sides.

Sometimes the pressures of high performance can cloud judgement of the processes of achieving goals. But we have to remember, we are all striving for the same thing. The success of Irish rugby. The growth of women’s rugby in Ireland. The opportunities for all young players who want to pick up the ball to access a real pathway to real success.

It might be some time before an Irish player turns up to a dressing room with balloons and banners around her hanger with a giant 5 and 0 (and eventually 100) signifying a milestone achievement. But it will come. Because gone are the days when players are sidelined for speaking their truth. For being punished for being too experienced. Let this be the last time this is ever heard of.

Welcome back, Clíodhna Moloney. Ireland has missed you.

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