Stacey set to face the French

CITY OF Derry’s Stacey Lea Kennedy looks set to win her second International cap tonight when Ireland Ladies take on France in the Six Nations Championship at Ashbourne Rugby Club, Co. Meath. (k.o. 7.30pm).

MIchael Wilson reports

Kennedy, who is in her first season with the senior squad, made her debut as a late substitute in the Championship opener against Italy in the Stadio Comunale Mario Battaglini, Rovigo, a game which brought a 26-5 victory for Philip Doyle’s Irish squad.

The visitors were forced to battle back from the concession of an early try before eventually over-running the Italians and it was an experience Stacey is unlikely to forget after she replaced Gillian Burke at hooker.

“It was just fantastic to be involved, it wasn’t an easy game,” admitted the Derry player.

“I was a bit surprised really because it was such an emotional experience and one which didn’t feel real at all until I was coming out on the red carpet and meeting the Italian dignitaries before the game.

“The whole build-up was a bit surreal but it was one I enjoyed thoroughly. We left Dublin on the Friday morning with Brian O’Driscoll sending us a ‘Good Luck’ message before the men’s squad headed off to start their own Six Nations campaign.

“At the game, I was anxiously watching the clock on the sideline but the timing of my introduction wasn’t bad because Italy had just knocked-on which meant we were setting up for a scrum. That allowed me to get involved straight away. Sometimes, if you come on so late in the game, it’s difficult to get involved but I think I did okay.

“Gillian (Burke) is an experienced player and as she came off she told me to relax and enjoy it but the adrenalin was already racing. We drove them back a couple of times and Philip (Doyle) said he was impressed with me for the short period I had been on the pitch.”

If the Italians were a tricky opener, the Irish Ladies face an acid test this evening against a France team who trounced Scotland 53-3 in their first match and Stacey, who paid tribute to her employers at Firstsource, Derry, is under no illusions about the size of the task they face.

With Ireland naming an unchanged starting 15, Stacey is hoping her late cameo will win her more time against the French but as International rules dictate any player playing less than 15 minutes for their country is available for club duty, Ireland’s loss could be Derry’s gain when they face Harlequins this weekend.

“My debut was nerve-wrecking but I like to be under pressure, that’s when you can really test yourself. We have France this weekend and Ireland have yet to lose at home so the pressure will really be on.

“The French result last week shows just how strong they are. The fact we have France and England at home will be a boost but we will be tested to the maximum.

“I suppose I’m in a no-lose situation this weekend. If I’m not involved with Ireland then I’ll be available for Derry this weekend and I would love to face Harlequins. I just want to play and I would love the opportunity to play alongside South African internationals, Mandisa Williams and Fundi Plaatjie, for Derry,” she added.