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Magnificent Maz and more talking points as Ireland begin the World Cup with a bang

The Wallaroos were unforgiving opposition, but Ireland dug deep to take a vital victory on opening night.

Sean Farrell reports from the UCD Bowl.

IRELAND GOT OFF to a winning start in their home Women’s Rugby World Cup clash against Australia in UCD. Here’s our match report from the Bowl, and some snap post-match points to ponder below.

A bruising battle to do the tournament good

Every tournament has its mismatches and rugby tends to punish them more severely than many sports, but after Canada piled 98 points on Hong Kong, England seen off Spain with 51 points to spare and New Zealand defeated Wales without the need of dominance in either set-piece, a tight, tense tussle between two top six teams was a welcome way to end day one in the UCD Bowl.

The physicality on show was remarkable and it created an out and out.battle. Jenny Murphy smashed into tackles, but also had to play injured for most of her time on the field, Miller was moving gingerly on her ankle in the second half, but persisted in carrying with venom and Marie Louise Reilly had to be taped up and kept on to continue leading the pack.

Ireland feel their way into the World Cup

It wasn’t necessarily a case of early opening day nerves, perhaps more about getting full attuned to battle, but Ireland were guilty of numerous early and unforced errors that stunted their progress.

Larissa Muldoon celebrates scoring their first try with teammates Source: Bryan Keane/INPHO

Before both half-backs put Ireland on the scoreboard, they were each guilty of poor kicks from hand; Larissa Muldoon’s box-kick flew direct into touch and Nora Stapleton missed touch from a penalty. Outside them, there were knock-ons as Ireland struggled to keep hold of the ball under threat (and delivery) of immense Aussie impact.

After Australia took the lead in the second half however, Ireland looked like they mentally shook off all the knocks and began to believe in the strength and conditioning work they’ve put in over the last four months.

Immediately after Ciara Griffin forced her try, Claire Molloy took the restart and cut left and right like a woman who had just been sent into the game. Ali Miller began raiding space, Sophie Spence added her line-busting presence and Lindsay Peat was whipping the crowd into a fervour.

It all added up into a frenzied final few minutes as Ireland scrapped to remain in the lead with a crowd bellowing their approval in the lowering sunshine.

Gold Standard

With only five Tests to their name since the last World Cup, there were big questions over how Australia would present themselves for duty.

Mahalia Murphy celebrates scoring their first try with teammates Source: Bryan Keane/INPHO

We got the devastating mix of hard-hitting forwards and supremely athletics backs we feared. A year and a day after Shannon Parry and Sharni Williams were leading their team to Olympic gold in Rio they were showing off that pedigree in the 15s game.

Across the back-line, their handling was assured and their footwork was quick and the lines they took were a nightmare for tacklers. Never did their off-the-cuff skills come into better light than for Mahalia Murphy’s sensational in-and-out finish after a quick line-out was flashed across field with two sublime passes.

Magnificent Maz

The Wallaroos arrived with a much more potent scrum threat than we expected based on their June Tests, but Ireland retained the upper hand in the line-out thanks to Marie Louise Reilly.

Marie Louise Reilly wins a line-out Source: Bryan Keane/INPHO

The Meath woman took a deserved player of the match gong after a towering performance presence at the set-piece, causing constant headaches for the Wallaroos even when she wasn’t stealing their ball. Her presence gave Ireland a safe option to hit time and again and she got through a Trojan amount of work in the loose.

Victory vital

Defeat in a tournament as tight and frenetic as the Women’s World Cup pretty much spells the end for hopes of advancing to the podium places.

For long stretches in UCD tonight, Australia made us extremely worried that Ireland might have a long fortnight ahead with little to play for on home soil. Our doubts were stirred too soon. Tonight Ireland showed a grit and resolve of a team who relishes the chance to fight their way out of a corner.

That’s one very big hurdle between Ireland and the semis cleared. Roll on Sunday.

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As it happened: Ireland vs Australia, Women’s Rugby World Cup Pool C

Quiz: Name the sport/team this player represented before turning to rugby

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