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Dublin: 3°C Sunday 28 February 2021

Ireland out-powered and out-played by Australia as World Cup campaign hits rock bottom

Australia ran riot at Kingspan Stadium as they scored five tries to inflict a second straight defeat on the hosts.

Hilisha Samoa scored Australia's third try.
Hilisha Samoa scored Australia's third try.
Image: Billy Stickland/INPHO

Ireland 24

Australia 36

Ryan Bailey reports from Kingspan Stadium

THIS WAS NOT the fixture anyone wanted to be involved in when the tournament rolled up north to Belfast but Ireland, thrashed here for the second time in five days, couldn’t be any further from the semi-finals down for decision on this pitch a little later.

Tom Tierney’s side briefly mustered the character to lead this fifth-place playoff semi-final for a couple of first half minutes, but overall this was another abject and dire performance from a team lacking confidence and any sort of direction. That said, there can be no doubting the bravery and fight from Ireland. They just couldn’t live with Australia.

The Wallaroos were utterly dominant from the first minute and save for a period of brief hope engendered by Ailis Egan’s first-half try and an outstanding score from Ali Miller, Ireland were out-powered, out-muscled and out-played in Belfast.

The loss of captain Claire Molloy and Jenny Murphy to head injuries didn’t help matters but to look for excuses would be completely foolish because Ireland were second best in every department. As this tournament has gone on, the performances have got progressively worse.

It says a lot that a late rally, which yielded tries from Sophie Spence and Paula Fizpatrick and only added gloss to an otherwise one-sided scoreboard, received the biggest cheer of the day from the home crowd inside Kingspan Stadium; the game long gone, but it was at least something to get excited about.

A penny for Tierney’s thoughts as he watched his team being cut to shreds from the stands with a seventh-placed finish the best Ireland can now hope for. The head coach must now face serious questions about the team’s preparation for this tournament and his future in the job. And it’s high time he answers them.

Alison Miller and Jenny Murphy dejected Ali Miller and Jenny Murphy dejected after the game. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

“Not good enough today,” was the summary from stand-in skipper Fitzpatrick at full time.

The story of Ireland’s tournament. Not good enough, sadly.

But the most frustrating thing about all this is that we saw glimpses of the potential of this team. Today, we saw how dangerous Ireland can be when they move it out from the forwards and throw it wide; Miller’s try was as good as any you’re likely to see in this tournament. An expansive passing and skill-reliant game.

Jenny Murphy’s grubber in behind was perfectly weighted and sat up invitingly for the winger to run onto before she held off the tackle of three green and gold shirts to extend Ireland’s lead to seven points after 18 minutes. Exciting rugby, and highly effective.

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That was as good as it got.

Australia had owned the ball for the first 10 minutes and proceeded to regain complete superiority of the contest — if you can really call it that — to such an extent that it was game over by the 55th minute. Ireland had been level, at 12-12, in the 34th minute.

After the attritional nature of the first meeting between these sides during the pool stages, Ireland would have known exactly what to expect but even still they were rocked backwards from the off. The approach of going toe-to-toe in a physical joust has been Ireland’s downfall in this tournament and they only invited a hungry Australian side on.

Incredibly powerful yet also capable of throwing it wide with pace, precision and penetration, Australia forced Ireland to dig deep defensively and expend huge amounts of energy, and confidence, in the process.

The Wallaroo’s power in contact meant Ireland had to commit two players to each tackle and it created space for their backs to pick lines and get over the gain line at every opportunity.

Prop Hilisha Samoa was outstanding throughout, her combination of hard shoulders and soft hands making her a thorn in Ireland’s defence, and she scored the third try six minutes before the break to give Australia a 19-12 lead.

Sharni Williams is tackled by Nora Stapelton Ireland missed far too many tackles on another disappointing day. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

It was as you were after the break as Ireland tired and Australia ran riot. Missed tackles became a norm as Millie Boyle and Mahalia Murphy extended the lead. Nightmare, and dare we say it, embarrassing, stuff.

Ireland, to their credit, came again but it was too little, too late as Spence and then Fitzpatrick carried over the whitewash after hard yards from the forwards.

Down and out, but still a seventh-eighth place playoff against Wales on Saturday. It’s not where Ireland wanted to be on the final day of a tournament which started with so much optimism.

A disappointing and humbling day in Belfast, where nowhere near half of the 8,000 spectators in possession of tickets showed up. They missed nothing new.

Ireland scorers:
Tries: Ailis Egan, Alison Miller, Sophie Spence, Paula Fitzpatrick.
Conversions: Nora Stapleton [1 from 2], Hannah Tyrrell [1 from 2]
Australia scorers:
Tries: Sharni Williams, Sarah Riordan, Hilisha Samoa, Millie Boyle, Mahalia Murphy.
Penalties: Ashleigh Hewson [1 from 1]
Conversions: Ashleigh Hewson [4 from 5]

IRELAND: 15. Hannah Tyrrell; 14. Louise Galvin, 13. Jenny Murphy (23. Claire McLaughlin 36′), 12. Sene Naoupu, 11. Alison Miller; 10. Nora Stapleton (22. Katie Fitzhenry 66′), 9. Nicole Cronin (21. Larissa Muldoon 52′); 1. Lindsay Peat (17. Ilse van Staden 66′), 2. Cliodhna Moloney (16. Leah Lyons 52′) 3. Ailis Egan (18. Ciara O’Connor 66′), 4. Ciara Cooney (19. Sophie Spence 52′), 5. Marie Louise Reilly, 6. Ciara Griffin, 7. Claire Molloy (capt) (20. Anna Caplice 9′), 8. Paula Fitzpatrick.

AUSTRALIA: 15. Samantha Treherne; 14. Nareta Marsters, 13. Sarah Riordan, 12. Sharni Williams (capt), 11. Mahalia Murphy; 10. Ashleigh Hewson, 9. Katrina Barker; 1. Liz Patu, 2. Cheyenne Campbell, 3. Hilisha Samoa, 4. Alisha Hewett, Rebecca Clough, Millie Boyle, Chloe Butler, Grace Hamilton.

Replacements: Emily Robinson, Violeta Tupuola, Hana Ngaha, Mollie Gray, Kate Brown, Fenella Hake, Kayla Sauvao, Trilleen Pomare.

Referee: Ian Tempest (England).

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Ryan Bailey

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