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The bitter end: Late rally from Ireland not enough to salvage consolation from home World Cup

Wales ensured Ireland finish eighth at their home World Cup and will have to go through a qualification process for the next edition.

Image: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Ireland 17

Wales 27

Sean Farrell reports from Kingspan Stadium

ANOTHER CRUSHING RESULT despite a performance of brave resistance. Ireland battled to the bitter end of a bitterly disappointing home World Cup campaign and finish up eighth without even the consolation of automatic qualification for the next edition of the tournament.

It was a gut-wrenching watch too. Not just for the rising injury toll from this punishing tournament as Ailis Egan, Ciara Cooney and Ciara Griffin all hobbled around to the bench for an early finish. Wales, so often an opponent to bring an unbearably tight contest, powered their way to an insurmountable lead that ensured the hosts’ late rally would never really put the outcome in doubt.

Playing for seventh doesn’t do much to spark the imagination, so Ireland took the field like a team knowing they had to create something special off their own bat.

The towering figure of Maz Reilly welled up in tears during the anthems, and that raw emotion was carried through into the team huddle. From the first whistle, Ireland’s backs showed no lack of adventure, intent or skill. Jeamie Deacon was a terrific addition to midfield, where she backed up early cuts in attack with terrific passes off both hands.

It was Deacon who created Ireland’s early try chance as she set Hannah Tyrell and Eimear Considine away on a two-on-one chance down the right: a combination of decent drift defence and the final pass making Considine slow let Wales off the hook.

It was a temporary reprieve as Ireland built pressure in the red 22 and, with a penalty coming, Nora Stapleton pinged a beauty of a cross-field kick towards Ali Miller and Considine in space on the left. Unfortunately, the Clare woman seemed to lose the flight of the ball overhead and Miller over-ran the bounce allowing Jasmine Joyce gather. No matter, back for the penalty and a textbook driving maul that captain Paula Fitzpatrick grounded to bring her personal try tally in this tournament to four.

Carys Phillips scores a try Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

With the Saturday afternoon kick-off allowing for a much larger crowd than came through the gates to catch the drubbing against Australia on Tuesday, the blindside’s try was greeted with a rapturous cheer. But from that uplifting 12th minute moment on, the ball, territory and the half itself belonged to Wales.

Ireland’s maul defence began the stint on the back foot well, thwarting the first flurries of Wales’ attack. But Egan was lost to injury and soon so was all the momentum. Pressure turned to penalties and Robyn Wilkins kicked Wales onto the board with 26 on the clock. Within five more minutes, the Welsh pack found their way through the maul at last, loosehead Caryl Thomas touching down and Wilkins converting to ensure a 7 – 10 advantage for the visitors at the half.

Emerging from the changing rooms early for the second half, Reilly and Lindsay Peat led the rallying cries in the middle of a tightly-bound huddle. But in the middle of their fifth attritional match in 17 days, there was no easy switch to be flicked.

The pressure came in red waves again, and the 49th minute was a disastrous one for Ireland as the contest was ended with the triple blow of a Ciara Cooney injury, a Sioned Harries try and a yellow card for Paula Fitzpatrick. By the time the captain returned, the deficit was  up to 7 – 22 after Phillips crashed over in the corner.

Katie Fitzhenry scores a try Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

A slew of replacements with bags of experience brought a welcome injection of energy and angry intent. The renewed focus helped yield a card for Evans as she killed an Irish maul five metres out and the crowd were more than happy to respond to Peat’s whirling arms as she celebrated her 64th minute try. Her unshakeable desire and belief was admirable, but the 10-point chasm remained on the scoreboard and the Welsh were far from wilting. Sure enough, Shona Powell-Hughes crept beyond the try-line soon after to cancel out all the hard work.

This group of women don’t shirk any challenge however, and though they have had to realign expectations downward throughout this tournament, they continued to attack until the final whistle when even seventh place was out of their grasp.

Katie Fitzhenry grabbed a late try and a TMO ruled out another, a battling end with plenty of quality skill that seemed more in-keeping with the talent of this squad than the tournament allowed them to show.

Scorers

Ireland

Tries: P Fitzpatrick, L Peat K Fitzhenry

Conversions: N Stapleton (1/1), H Tyrell (0/2)

Wales

Tries: C Thomas, S Harries, C Phillips, S Powell-Hughes

Conversions: R Wilkins (2/4)

Penalties : R Wilkins (1/1)

Ireland: Hannah Tyrrell, Eimear Considine, Katie Fitzhenry, Jeamie Deacon, Alison Miller, Nora Stapleton (Sene Naoupu ’54), Nicole Cronin (Larissa Muldoon ’54): Lindsay Peat, Cliodhna Moloney, Ailis Egan (Ciara O’Connor ’23 (Leah Lyons ’56)); Ciara Cooney (Sophie Spence ’47), Marie-Louise Reilly; Paula Fitzpatrick  Capt, Ciara Griffin (Ilse Van Staden ’71) , Heather O’Brien (Ashleigh Baxter ’54).

Wales: Elinor Snowsill, Elen Evans, Gemma Rowland (India Berbillion ’80), Hannah Jones, Jasmine Joyce, Robyn Wilkins, Keira Bevan: Caryl Thomas, Carys Phillips Capt. Amy Evans, Siwan Lillicrap ( Shona Powell-Hughes ’65), Mel Clay, Alisha Butchers (Cerys Hale ’62), Rachel Taylor, Sioned Harries.

Tom Tierney steps down as Ireland head coach following World Cup defeat to Wales

As it happened: Ireland v Wales, Women’s Rugby World Cup 2017

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About the author:

Sean Farrell

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