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Ireland narrowly lose out to world champions England in first November Test

Nora Stapleton scored all of Ireland’s points in a 12-10 defeat at the UCD Bowl.

Ireland 10

England 12

Murray Kinsella reports from the UCD Bowl

IRELAND NARROWLY LOST out to world champions England in their first of three November Tests in UCD, the venue for next year’s World Cup pool stages.

IrelandÕs Sene Naoupu celebrates with try scorer Nora Stapleton Ireland celebrate Nora Stapleton's second-half try. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

Tom Tierney’s side were excellent for long spells against a more experienced England team, but the English were the more clinical outfit overall in front of 1,397 people, converting their territory into two tries.

Out-half Nora Stapleton was superb for Ireland, scoring all their points with a try, conversion and penalty, while the likes of captain Paula Fitzpatrick, openside Claire Molloy, wing Alison Miller, fullback Maired Coyne and inside centre Sene Naoupu stood out.

There was a debut for Galwegians centre Nicole Fowley, who impressed, while Leah Lyons also made her international bow off the bench, forced to play more than a half at hooker despite being better known as a prop.

UL Bohemians back row Chloe Pearse was the third Ireland new cap, replacing the injured Molloy in the second half and providing good work rate.

Less experienced Ireland players like Lindsay Peat – making her first start at loosehead – gained valuable experience in an entertaining Test match, as well as a greater appreciation for the fine margins involved in winning and losing at this level.

With Canada and New Zealand to visit UCD in the next two weekends, the challenges are coming thick and fast for this Ireland squad as they look to build the depth and quality required to win a first-ever World Cup on home soil next August.

Fowley set the tone for Ireland early on with a sharp offload with her first touch of the ball in Test rugby, while also combining with the ever-dangerous Miller for a brilliant choke tackle soon after.

IrelandÕs Alison Miller is tackled by EnglandÕs Kay Wilson Ali Miller surges up the left flank for Ireland. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

With Stapleton’s passing to the fore and captain Fitzpatrick prominent on the ball, Ireland’s attacking play was ambitious and expansive, though they struggled to truly cut the English defence open.

The first half was largely a story of Irish possession between the two 22s, as they shunned opportunities to kick and instead kept ball in hand, the likes of openside Molloy – the most experienced member of the team – bringing energy throughout.

But it was the English who showed a truly clinical edge when they finally earned field position in the Ireland 22 late in the half. First, they were held up over the tryline wide on the left following a Vicky Fleetwood break, before Marlie Packer had a try chalked off for a forward pass.

Undeterred, the world champions sent their maul trundling forward from 20 metres out on their next attack, with Fleetwood breaking off to the left and steamrolling Cliodhna Moloney – forced off injured – to lay the platform for the record-breaking Rocky Clarke to pick and drive her way over for a try on her 115th cap.

Emily Scott was wide with the conversion, and Ireland were chastened into responding. Stapleton found position in the England 22 with a delightful spiral kick, sparking a passage of play that ended with tighthead Ailis Egan winning a brilliant turnover penalty.

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Sene Naoupu Inside centre Sene Naoupu was excellent again. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

From underneath the posts, Stapleton ensured Ireland went into the break 5-3 down.

A superb turnover penalty from Molloy helped the home side to a perfect start to the second half, but the openside was soon lost to an apparent shoulder injury, allowing Pearse on to make her debut.

Ireland dealt well with the blow, however, as Miller gave them front-foot ball with a powerful surge into England’s red zone from a scrum starter play. Ireland then looked for a pushover try at the next scrum, only for England to shunt them backwards at the second attempt.

The next wave of Ireland’s attack ended with their try through Stapleton on the 52-minute mark, the out-half reacting superbly to gather in a wild hacked clearance attempt from England five metres out from their tryline, the Old Belvedere playmaker finishing dynamically through two tackles.

Stapleton converted for a 10-5 Ireland lead, then kicked well in open play as Tierney’s side looked to control proceedings, but the English were determined in forcing their way back into the game as their bench had a telling impact.

Finally, after a long period of pressure, the maul yielded a try for flanker Izzy Noel-Smith, with Katy McLean cooly converting for a 12-10 lead.

Though Ireland finished the game inside England’s half, the difference in experience showed as the English calmly closed out their win.

Ireland scorers:

Tries: Nora Stapleton

Conversions: Nora Stapleton [1 from 1]

Penalties: Nora Stapleton [1 from 1]

England scorers:

Tries: Rocky Clarke, Izzy Noel-Smith

Conversions: Emily Scott [0 from 1], Katy McLean [1 from 1]

IRELAND: Mairead Coyne; Niamh Kavanagh, Nicole Fowley, Sene Naoupu, Alison Miller; Nora Stapleton, Larissa Muldoon (Mary Healy ’53); Lindsay Peat (Fiona Hayes ’63), Cliodhna Moloney (Leah Lyons ’36), Ailis Egan; Maire-Louise Reilly, Orla Fitzsimons (Katie Norris  ’74); Ciara Griffin, Claire Molloy (Chloe Pearse ’45), Paula Fitzpatrick (captain).

Replacements not used: Fiona Reidy, Nikki Caughey, Jackie Shiels.

ENGLAND: Danielle Waterman; Kay Wilson, Claire Allan (Katy Mclean ’52), Rachael Burford (Ceri Large ’69), Fiona Pocock; Emily Scott, La Toya Mason (Mo Hunt ’52); Rochelle Clark (Vickii Cornborough ’56), Vicky Fleetwood, Laura Keates (Justine Lucas ’56); Tamara Taylor, Harriet Millar-Mills (Poppy Cleall ’69); Izzy Noel-Smith, Marlie Packer (Amy Cokayne ’44), Sarah Hunter (captain).

Replacements not used: Sarah Bern.

Referee: Amy Perrett.

Attendance: 1,397.

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About the author:

Murray Kinsella

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