Wednesday, May 22, 2024

Ireland players won’t be thinking about World Cup qualification when they face Scotland, says coach McKee

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Scotland are in pole position as they’re currently third in the table, two points ahead of fourth-place Italy and fifth-place Ireland (Italy lead Ireland on points difference). The Azzurre’s game with Wales in Cardiff kicks off at 12.15pm on Saturday and is followed by Ireland against Scotland at 2.30pm, so the Ireland players will know the permutations before they kick-off.

“Obviously, the other game is earlier than ours, so the result will be known, people will know what’s required going into the game. That wouldn’t be our primary focus as our motivator or our psychology going into the game,” says McKee.

“Our motivator will be our performance we can bring against Scotland, and bring a performance that will first and foremost make the team proud, but also for the supporters, that they can see a performance they can be proud of and get behind.”

Co-captain Sam Monaghan returns to the starting team in one of three changes to the side that started the 88-10 defeat to England last weekend. Monaghan replaces Hannah O’Connor. Full-back Lauren Delany has been dropped from the match-day squad after she started the four previous games.

She’s replaced by Méabh Deely who will make her first start of the championship. Enya Breen also reverts to the centre with Aoife Dalton dropping to the bench. The uncapped Katie Heffernan – who is also part of the sevens programme – is on the bench.

“Sam [Monaghan] is a very important player for us, we saw her form in the earlier rounds and credit to Sam, the way she’s worked hard to make sure she’s fit for this game. We’re looking for her skill as a player, but also her leadership within the group,” McKee added.

“Katie [Heffernan] is a player who has been in the sevens programme for a while. Across the two programmes there’s certainly a lot more crossover now that the centralised programme is more established. Katie had some good opportunity to play 15s in the Celtic Challenge, showing she’s a highly skilled player but also has a tough mental resolve to play well in her position in the centre.”

McKee says the group has responded well to last weekend’s hammering by table-toppers England.

“It was a tough week last weekend and really hard coming up against England at Twickenham. They were on fire and we were probably a few percentage points below our best. The result was a consequence. But credit to Scott [Bemand], head coach, and the players.

“The way we addressed that in London before we departed for home. And credit to the players this week; how they’ve really worked hard on the task. We’ve trained well, we’ve trained hard yesterday, and to set ourselves up in the best position to bounce back and put in a peak performance this week.”

Saturday’s game is set to break a new attendance record for a Women’s Six Nations game on Irish soil with 6,600 tickets already sold. The previous mark was 6,605 which was set at the RDS against Italy last month.

Ireland team (v Scotland): M Deely; K Corrigan, E Higgins, E Breen, B Parsons; D O’Brien, A Reilly; L Djougang, N Jones, C Haney; D Wall, S Monaghan (co-capt); A Wafer, E McMahon (co-capt), B Hogan.

Reps: C Moloney, N O’Dowd, S McGrath, F Tuite, S Ikahihifo, M Scuffil-McCabe, A Dalton, K Heffernan

Scotland team (v Ireland): M Smith; C Grant, E Orr, L Thomson, F McGhie; H Nelson, C Mattinson; M Wright, L Skeldon, C Belisle; E Wassell, L McMillan; R Malcolm (capt), A Stewart, E Gallagher.

Reps: E Martin, L Bartlett, E Clarke, E Donaldson, R McLachlan, M McDonald, C Bell, N Flynn

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