Belfast Telegraph

Monday 22 September 2014

Northern Ireland geared up for Fiji

Big chance: Michelle Drayne started for Northern Ireland

Northern Ireland got their Pacific Islands tour off to a good start with a 65-42 victory over Papua New Guinea in their opening Digicel Tri-Series game in Suva.

Captain Hannah Willis of Graduates wasn't risked against a team ranked 18th in the world after coming off with a calf strain in last week's Senior Cup final against Larkfield.

Graduates club captain Lisa McCaffrey filled in for Willis at wing attack initially before exchanging places with centre Michelle Drayne for the second half.

With established stars Caroline O'Hanlon and Fionnuala Toner not on the tour due to exam commitments, there were starts for the Larkfield duo of Drayne and Nordia Masters.

The vastly experienced Noleen Lennon took over as captain of a team with four Graduates players including Gemma Gibney, Niamh Cooper and Oonagh McCullough.

This was an expected victory for coach Kate Carpenter's side but served a useful purpose in getting the team ready for a much tougher test against hosts Fiji.

Carpenter had the luxury of trying out multiple permutations without risking Willis.

Fiji, who are ranked seventh in the world, won their own warm-up match against Tonga 46-32.

The Fijians won't be at this summer's Commonwealth Games due to the political problems which sidelined them during the qualifying period.

It will be a blow if Willis isn't able to play but, with the Europeans at the end of the month, no unnecessary risks will be taken with the captain's fitness.

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