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Ireland edge epic, energy-sapping tussle with Australia to get World Cup bid up and running

It was incredibly tight in Belfield but Tom Tierney’s side did enough to clinch a two-point victory.

Image: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Ireland 19

Australia 17

Ryan Bailey reports from the Belfield Bowl, UCD 

THIS WAS THE occasion, and result, Ireland had dreamt of in the long months and years of preparation leading up to this World Cup opener and Tom Tierney’s side delivered everything they wanted and worked for, most importantly the four precious points.

The roar which greeted the full-time whistle from all four corners of this ground not only was a huge sigh of relief but an indication of the levels of support behind Claire Molloy and her troops as they bid for World Cup glory on home soil.

And boy, did they have to dip deep and produce an immensely physical performance to see off an Australian side who threw everything at the hosts from the first until last minute of an epic, energy-sapping tussle in Belfield.

In the end, Sophie Spence, who came off the replacements bench to make a titanic impact, was the match-winner as her try 10 minutes from time tilted the balance in Ireland’s favour and they were just about able to hold on for a victory which provides the platform for the rest of their Pool C campaign.

Spence made a telling contribution but Ireland had outstanding performers across the park, most notably player of the match Marie Louise Reilly, captain Claire Molloy and Jenny Murphy as Ireland stood up on the biggest stage, albeit only after heading into the final 20 minutes trailing 10-7.

After an opening quarter riddled with mistakes, with nerves no doubt playing a part, Ireland gained a foothold in Australian territory as scrum-half Larissa Muldoon sniped over from close range.

It was clear from the off Australia were here to take the game to Ireland and they never went away, testing the home defence with an expansive and fluid running game which yielded three tries, the third of which from prop Hilisha Samoa set-up a tense finale.

But with a raucous home crowd behind them, Ireland had enough resolve, bottle and experience to weather the storm and see out the win in the most dramatic of circumstances.

Sene Naoupu and Nora Stapleton celebrate winning Sene Naoupu and Nora Stapleton celebrate victory. Source: Bryan Keane/INPHO

After the day’s other games had been horribly one-sided encounters, this was the sort of scrap the tournament needed and it was a brilliant advertisement for women’s rugby on a near-perfect evening for rugby.

Both captains spoke about the importance of a fast start and, as expected, the opening exchanges were incredibly attritional, with Australia far from intimidated by the atmosphere as they brought the fight to Ireland from the off.

With a heavy sevens influence, Australia’s assured handling and willingness to run it wide at every opportunity tested Ireland’s strength in defence as they were subjected to a flurry of early barrages.

In the lowering sunshine, Tierney’s side were pulled left and right but stood firm and turned the tide by winning a huge scrum against the head, which generated a huge roar from the stands.

From there, Ireland released the pressure valve as they inched their way up the far touchline with a series of penalties, only for Nora Stapleton’s pass out to Ali Miller to go to ground when space had opened up ahead of the winger.

There was plenty of energy but not a lot of fluidity to Ireland’s forays into opposition territory and it was little surprise they quickly looked to their strength in the set-piece.

It paid instant dividends as they bashed away on the front line, eeking out hard yards and eventually reaping the rewards for their patience and perseverance as Muldoon dived over.

Lindsay Peat tackles Hilisha Samoa It was a hugely physical game. Source: Bryan Keane/INPHO

Stapleton added the conversion but Australia came roaring back soon after in what was developing into an epic tussle played in front of a capacity crowd of over 3,500.

The ground was temporarily silenced on 27 minutes, however, when Ireland were caught cold and exposed from a lineout on the far side and Samantha Treherne’s looping pass left Mahalia Murphy one-on-one with Eimear Considine.

Murphy, on debut, finished brilliantly as she ran her opposite number inside and out before weaving through the gap to go over under the posts.

Treherne’s conversion attempt never got off the ground after the ball slipped from the kicking tee as she went to strike it — and that miss was to prove incredibly costly.

Ireland took the two-point advantage into the break but the Wallaroos seized control on 56 minutes after a period of sustained pressure resulted in captain Shannon Parry crashing over.

Once again, the conversion attempt was weak and Australia will no doubt look back on a series of squandered chances as they agonisingly missed out causing an upset — because make no mistake about it, Ireland were far from their best and they will need to improve immeasurably as the tournament progresses.

All that matters, however, is they got the job done and the two game-clinching tries came via familiar avenues as replacements Ciara Griffin and Spence dotted down after barraging work from the forwards. 

Tom Tierney celebrates winning with Claire Molloy Tom Tierney and Claire Molloy at full time. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

As the minutes ticked down, the physicality and tempo to proceedings went through the roof and Ireland eventually wore down the Australian defence to score a near identical try to the one they had conceded to Parry moments earlier.

Griffin’s score restored Ireland’s advantage and Spence’s power then created daylight and two scores between the sides heading into the final 10 minutes, only for Australia to go down the other end and make it a two-point game through Samoa.

Ireland showed enough composure in the dying embers to see out the remaining minutes and avert disaster. Job done, points secured and room for improvement. Onto Japan on Sunday.

Ireland scorers:
Tries: Larissa Muldoon, Ciara Griffin, Sophie Spence 
Conversions:
Nora Stapleton [2 from 4]
Australia scorers:
Tries: Mahalia Murphy, Shannon Parry, Hilisha Samoa
Conversions: Samantha Treherne [0 from 2], Ashleigh Hewson [1 from 1]

IRELAND: 15. Hannah Tyrrell, 14. Eimear Considine, 13. Jenny Murphy (22. Katie Fitzhenry 47′), 12. Sene Naoupu, 11. Alison Miller, 10. Nora Stapleton, 9. Larissa Muldoon; 1. Lindsay Peat, 2. Cliodhna Moloney, 3. Ailis Egan (18. Ciara O’Connor 50′), 4. Paula Fitzpatrick (19. Sophie Spence 50′), 5. Marie Louise Reilly, 6. Ashleigh Baxter, 7. Claire Molloy (captain), 8. Heather O’Brien (20. Ciara Griffin 58′).

Replacements not used: 16. Leah Lyons, 17. Ruth O’Reilly, 21. Nicole Cronin, 23. Mairead Coyne.

AUSTRALIA: 15. Samantha Treherne, 14. Nareta Marsters (23. Ashleigh Hewson 58′) 13. Kayla Sauvao (22. Sarah Riordan 71′), 12. Sharni Williams, 11. Mahalia Murphy, 10. Trilleen Pomare (21. Fenella Hake 75′) 9. Katrina Karker; 1. Liz Patu (18. Hana Ngaha 71′), 2. Cheyenne Campbell, 3. Hilisha Samoa, 4. Chloe Butler, 5. Millie Boyle, 6. Mollie Gray (19. Rebecca Clough 41′), 7. Shannon Parry (captain), 8. Grace Hamilton.

Replacements: 16. Emily Robinson, 17. Violeta Tupuola, 20. Alisha Hewett.

Referee: Tim Baker (Hong Kong).

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