Niamh Briggs has spoken of the pride she has taken in being asked to succeed the recently retired Fiona Coughlan as Ireland captain as they prepare to kick off their defence against Italy in Florence on Friday, 6 February.

“It was obviously a fantastic honour,” Briggs told RTÉ Sport.

“I was driving home from training last Sunday and Anthony Eddy rang me and I thought I was going to be dropped – I didn’t know where this conversation was going to go. He asked me and I nearly crashed my car.”

The Ireland set-up has undergone major transition since last season, both on and off the pitch, with several stalwarts of the side hanging up their boots and a new management team in place.

“It’s a change, it’s been a bit different, but different in a good way,” the Waterford woman said.

“Tom [Tierney] and his coaching staff have come in and they’ve been really good. We’re playing a different brand of rugby than we’ve been used to and it’s really exciting.

“Obviously, losing so many good senior international players is always going to be difficult for any team, let alone Ireland, as we don’t have massive strength in depth in the player pool.

“There’s 12 uncapped players that have come in and they’ve fitted in really, really well.

“We had a run-out against Wales last Sunday and they did really, really well, so there are a lot of positives to take.

“We’re in it together and we’re relishing the start of the Six Nations.”

Ireland’s first Grand Slam was secured in a nail-biting 6-3 win against Italy in March 2013 and Briggs realises Ireland face a formidable opponent when they take on the Azzurri in Tuscany.   

“They’re a good squad and they’re very well organised. They play with a lot of freedom and we’re definitely going to have to be on top of our game,” Briggs added.