A fresh start for Ireland, and an exciting leap into the unknown for women's rugby.

While this is the second year of the TikTok Women's Six Nations existing in their own standalone window, this time it's the real deal.

Last year's truncated version was an ideal testing ground for the championship's new late-spring window, with organisers citing increased TV figures, and greater online engagement as the reason for retaining it in 2022.

England won their third title in a row, with France just behind in second, and it's hard to see anything other than the same two-horse race when this championship is concluded at the end of April.

The widening gap between England (live v Scotland on RTÉ Player from midday), France and the rest is an issue, but one for another day as far as Irish fans are concerned.

Before Ireland can even think about closing the gap to the top, they need to get their own show on the road after a year of disappointment and controversy both on and off the pitch.

Since last year's championship in which Ireland fared reasonably - a heavy defeat to France was offset by comfortable wins against Italy and Wales - there has been monumental change.

The failure to qualify for this year's Rugby World Cup knocked the first domino over, and it's led to a coaching change, a captaincy change, a public standoff between the players and the union, and ultimately a complete overhaul of how women's rugby is run in this country.

Greg McWilliams (below) is the new man in charge, taking over from former head coach Adam Griggs, who stepped down in the wake of the World Cup qualification disaster in Parma.

McWilliams returns to Ireland after several years spent in the USA, where he was part of the USA Eagles coaching staff, as well as being head coach of Rugby United New York in the MLR.

His appointment is one that was roundly welcomed; as assistant to Philip Doyle, the Dublin native was integral to Ireland's golden age of women's rugby, where they won a Six Nations Grand Slam in 2013, before becoming the first Irish national rugby team to defeat New Zealand, en route to the 2014 World Cup semi-final.

Also returning to the Irish set-up is Niamh Briggs, hired by McWilliams as his assistant, with the former Irish captain earning her stripes this year by coaching UL Bohs in the women's AIL.

The return of both McWilliams and Briggs to Irish women's rugby is a positive one; while former head coach Griggs was perceived to have not placed enough emphasis on the domestic game in Ireland, McWilliams and Briggs have shown their commitment to the Energia All-Ireland League by giving opportunities to club players in Ireland.

There's also the benefit of their names carrying weight in the Irish game, a bridge between Ireland's great generation and the transitional phase they find themselves in now.

But while there is a feel-good factor to the new coaching ticket, there is also the reality of where they find themselves.

Since Ireland's last Six Nations title in 2015, the professional and semi-professional structures in both England and France have seen Ireland fall miles behind their rivals, to the extent that their only realistic goal in the short-term can be to become the best of the rest.

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This Irish team are in transition, and expectations should be tempered to match that.

The World Cup failure saw a change of coach, but also a large turnover in playing personnel; captain Ciara Griffin retired, as did legendary figures like Claire Molloy and Lindsay Peat.

On top of that, McWilliams has left out a number of experienced players from his first squad with Cliodhna Moloney and Sene Naoupu both surprisingly not picked.

It means new captain Nichola Fryday is one of just two players in the starting line-up against Wales this week who has played more than 20 times in Test rugby, the other being full-back Eimear Considine, who will make her 24th cap at full-back.

"We're starting from the start again and we’re going to be building," said Fryday about leading Ireland's fresh start.

"We don’t want to be in a position where we won’t qualify for a World Cup again so it’s a really positive next few months and next few years, and we’re really excited for it."

There will be a spotlight on Fryday and Considine, as well as Linda Djougang and Kathryn Dane to help the newer faces through the campaign.

Of this afternoon's matchday squad to face Wales, three will be making their Test debuts, with Connacht scrum-half Aoibheann Reilly (below) named to start and forwards Christy Haney and Anna McGann set for their first Test caps off the bench.

They're among 15 of the matchday 23 who have fewer than 10 international appearances to their name.

And while he believes McWilliams has the potential to improve Ireland's standing in the women's game, Bernard Jackman reckons that lack of international experience across the squad may see Ireland endure some tough days early on.

"I think he'll have to fail in order to succeed," said Jackman on this week's RTÉ Rugby podcast.

"It's going to be a big chance, it should lead to some attractive attacking rugby, but unfortunately there will probably be that sticky point until we become good at it, where there might be some frustrating evenings, or afternoons where it doesn't stick and we struggle a bit."

With the fixtures laid out as they were for the men's championship, Ireland start their campaign at home against Wales (4.45pm) at the RDS, and will bring the show on the road throughout April hosting Italy at Musgrave Park before the Round 5 meeting with Scotland in Belfast.

Despite the inexperienced squad, three home wins - which would likely be enough for a third place finish - would be a realistic first step for this new Ireland team, and it starts against Wales.

A year ago, Ireland dished out a 45-0 hammering to the Welsh in Cardiff, whose three consecutive defeats saw their own off-field overhaul, leading to the WRU awarding 12 professional contracts to the women's game.

Former Ireland international Fiona Hayes anticipates that Ioan Cunningham's side have improved considerably in the last year.

"I definitely think you're going to see a much stronger Welsh team," she said.

"There were issues behind the scenes in that Welsh squad, talking to some of the players and staff members, they seem to have sorted that out. They've been training really well together.

"A lot of those Welsh players are playing with Bristol Bears and they're second in the Premiership, playing a really good brand of rugby and that will transfer onto that Welsh team as well."

The surprising piece of team selection for Ireland is the inclusion of star winger Beibhinn Parsons (below) on the replacements rather then the first XV.

The 20-year-old will be eased back to fitness by McWilliams, having spent time out injured in the early part of this season.

It allows Sevens captain Lucy Mulhall earn her second cap in the 15-a-side game on the left wing, while Amee-Leigh Murphy Crowe starts on the other wing opposite Welsh star Jasmine Joyce.

There's also a start for Munster's Nicole Cronin at out-half, and while Cronin is one of the more experienced player in the group on 17 caps, she's been two years waiting to get back into an Irish jersey.

Interestingly, her inclusion sees Stacey Flood move out to the centre, with the Sevens international comfortable on the ball but also providing a left-footed kicking option in the Irish backline.

The start for Ireland will be crucial, and given the freshness of both the players and management, it's likely we see them come out fast from the blocks.

And if they can have their noses in front into the second half, the introduction of Parsons off the bench should keep the scales tipped in their direction.

Verdict: Ireland

Ireland: Eimear Considine; Amee-Leigh Murphy Crowe, Eve Higgins, Stacey Flood, Lucy Mulhall; Nicole Cronin, Aoibheann Reilly; Linda Djougang, Neve Jones, Katie O'Dwyer, Nichola Fryday (capt), Sam Monaghan; Dorothy Wall, Edel McMahon, Brittany Hogan

Replacements: Emma Hooban, Chloe Pearse, Christy Hanley, Anna McGann, Hannah O’Connor, Kathryn Dane, Enya Breen, Beibhinn Parsons

Wales: Kayleigh Powell; Lisa Neuman, Hannah Jones, Kerin Lake, Jasmine Joyce; Elinor Snowsill, Keira Bevan; Gwenllian Pyrs, Carys Phillips, Cerys Hale; Natalia John, Gwen Crabb; Alisha Butchers, Alex Callender, Siwan Lillicrap

Replacements: Kelsey Jones, Cara Hope, Donna Rose, Sioned Harries, Bethan Lewis, Ffion Lewis, Robyn Wilkins, Sisilia Tuipulotu

Listen to the RTÉ Rugby podcast on Apple Podcasts, Soundcloud, Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts.

Follow all of Ireland's TikTok Women's Six Nations games via our live blogs on rte.ie/sport and on the RTÉ News App or listen to live radio coverage on RTÉ Radio 1.

Watch live coverage of Connacht v Leinster this Saturday 26 March (7pm) on RTÉ2 and RTÉ Player.