Murray Kinsella reports from Donnybrook
IRELAND CAME UP short in their bid for a Grand Slam, but tonight’s excellent Six Nations clash in Donnybrook gave us an appetising taster of what is to come in the home Women’s World Cup in August.
The 12 best teams in the world, Ireland included, will descend on Dublin and Belfast for the global tournament and Tom Tierney’s side will certainly be leaning on the home support.
6,105 people turned up at Donnybrook for tonight’s Grand Slam decider against the very impressive England and worked up a decent racket.
Ireland have long enjoyed the support of a loyal band of hardcore fans, the same fans who understandably expressed concerns around the ‘Vegas 3′ incident, and they managed to get the more casually interested Irish fans onboard.
The atmosphere in Donnybrook was, of course, aided greatly by events on the pitch, with Ireland competitive until England showed their class in pulling clear in the closing quarter, with sublime centre Emily Scarratt involved in most of their best moments.
Before that, Ireland frustrated the highly-fancied English, with their scrum and lineout showing up strongly, and a try from hooker Leah Lyons – with Ireland down to 14 women – suggesting a possibly late fightback before England sealed the deal.
The final scoreline of 34-7 probably doesn’t quite do justice to what Ireland offered.
And even in giving Ireland their due credit, we must acknowledge that there remains a clear gap between themselves and the world champions.
While Tierney’s players will have an exciting four months ahead in preparing for the World Cup, they have great improvements to make if they are to challenge for the title.
Game management is one area that requires work, with Ireland’s kicking game sorely absent at times in this Six Nations. Regular captain Niamh Briggs was missed badly in that regard, and for her reliability off the tee.
Getting the Munster woman back to full fitness and finally clear of hamstring trouble is a clear priority. Ireland will be a far better team for it, and one that can amass points from penalties.
In attack, the difference between Ireland and England was also evident. While Scarratt and co. were able to conjure moments of brilliance with ball in hand – hooker Amy Cockayne’s try was one highlight – Ireland were laboured at times.
They had to fight hard for every inch, although they were more than happy to do so. The conditions were very difficult on a wet night in Donnybrook, but Ireland will look to find more variety in their attack at the World Cup.
In Jenny Murphy, finally free of back trouble in this Six Nations, Ireland have a real star and fan’s favourite, with her ability to run over defenders and smash ball carriers into the ground always bringing gasps of delight from the Irish support.
The set-piece is a strength for Ireland, although they must be more clinical in converting close-range chances at the maul. England had done their homework superbly in that regard.
New leaders have emerged for Ireland in this championship, none more so than the impressive hooker Leah Lyons. The Highfield front row came to the fore as a force in the November Tests, and she is the greatest illustration of the value Tierney has insisted will be gained from his efforts to build depth in his squad.
With players of the calibre of Marie-Louise Reilly, Sophie Spence, Alison Miller and Claire Molloy – brilliant again until a nasty head injury – Ireland have quality throughout their squad.
Off the pitch, they have a support that appears to be growing again, and those new supporters who turned up at Donnybrook tonight would have been enthused at what was one of the best games in this Six Nations.
‘Stand Up for the Girls in Green’ constantly demanded that those seated in the main stand rose to their feet, while the sight of fathers and daughters in their abundance was encouraging too.
There were also various renditions of ‘The Fields of Athenry’ and one can only presume this loyal group of fans will grow in number and force at the UCD Bowl in August, when Ireland take on France, Australia and Japan in the pool stages of the World Cup.
Getting to a Grand Slam decider is nothing to sneer at for Ireland. While they will be extremely disappointed at defeat to this England side and recognise the room for growth, the home World Cup in August promises more.
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