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Caughey to play key role as women aim for two titles in row

By Jonathan Bradley

Ireland's women will rely heavily on Ulster's Nikki Caughey when they take on their Welsh counterparts at Donnybrook this afternoon (1pm kick-off).

Having been involved in Ireland's Sevens programme in recent seasons, Caughey gets the start at out-half as Tom Tierney's side begin their bid for a second consecutive title and a third in four years.

The 23-year-old former Grosvenor pupil who has also represented Northern Ireland at under-age level netball, is given responsibility for a backline that contains captain Niamh Briggs but is missing some experienced campaigners currently at a Sevens training camp in Sydney.

Three debutants are named in the squad - winger Elise O'Byrne-White and hooker Zoe Grattage will win their first caps and flanker Ciara Griffin is on the bench - while in total ten of the 23 are experiencing the Six Nations for a first time.

The other Ulsterwoman in the camp, Queen's University's Claire McLaughlin, will hope for a first cap later in the tournament.

Tierney says there is a buzz in the squad with so many set to feature in their first championship.

"It's very exciting to have so many new players involved in their first Six Nations game," he said.

"With some of the girls from last year's campaign involved with the Sevens at the moment, as well as some retirements over the past few seasons, it gives others the opportunity to pull on the green jersey.

"We're now at a stage where we are developing more and more girls who are capable at competing at international level and it's a great to see.

"The (warm-up) game against Wales the other week was good for us in that it allowed us to use 26 players and give them all a run against an international side.

"The fact that we are facing the same opposition so soon is interesting, as both sides will have worked on particular areas of their games over the past two weeks.

"We've trained well, so we're now looking forward to putting that all into practice in a full-on Test match."

The team will play all their home matches at Donnybrook this year, and on alternative days to the men's internationals, with the hopes that crowds will continue to grow ahead of hosting the World Cup next year.

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