Dublin: 13°C Saturday 23 October 2021

Ireland unable to bridge the gap as ruthless England run riot at Donnybrook

Adam Griggs’ side showed plenty of heart but opened their Women’s Six Nations campaign with a heavy home defeat.

Ireland  7

England 51

Ryan Bailey reports from Donnybrook 

IN THE END, the gulf in quality, the striking size difference and the disparity in resources was, quite simply, too much to bridge. At this level, heart and fight will only get you so far and while Ireland showed plenty of that here, the pattern and outcome of this game was almost inevitable. 

The scoreline suggests a one-sided hammering, and certainly the result was never in doubt, but Ireland can take huge encouragement from a number of aspects of their performance moving forward in this Women’s Six Nations campaign.

Eimear Considine dejected after Katy Daley-Mclean scores a try There was plenty to cheer about on a record-breaking night. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Not least the fact a record crowd of 4,637 turned up to lend their support to Adam Griggs’ side, despite the early 5pm kick-off and the sub-zero temperatures at Donnybrook. 

But England, ranked second in the world and a fully professional outfit, were in no mood to misfire on the opening weekend, instead showing a ruthless streak to run in eight tries. 

Griggs’ side battled gamely during the first period, enjoying large swathes of possession, but for all of their attacking endeavour were unable to make it count on the scoreboard, something England are experts in at the other end. 

The visitors quickly seized control of the contest and went into the half-time break with two tries in the bank, before a strong 15-minute salvo at the start of the second period yielded three quickfire tries to put the game to bed. They scored another three in the final quarter as Ireland tired.

A second-half penalty try was the least Ireland deserved and the likes of Claire Molloy, captain Ciara Griffin, Michelle Claffey and Eimear Considine were all standout performers.

There was also a notable return for winger Ali Miller, who was introduced as a second-half replacement 12 months after suffering a serious leg break against Italy last February, while Linda Djougang, Anne Marie O’Hora and Kathryn Dane all made their debuts off the bench.

Despite the end result, Ireland showed real energy and enterprise in possession early on, out-half Nicole Fowley starting brightly while Claffey consistently evaded the first tackle with excellent footwork and no shortage of opportunism. 

Another four months further down the line under Griggs, Ireland’s attacking endeavours and penchant to play free-flowing, heads-up rugby provided grounds for optimism, but this was a lesson in taking your opportunities.

Megan Williams with Emily Scarratt Megan Williams in action against Emily Scarratt. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

The hosts pitched tent inside the England half for the first three minutes of the contest, remaining patient as they tested the early resilience of the white wall in front of them, but were then cut apart far too easily.

Off a straightforward lineout strike move, Emily Scarratt got over the gainline in midfield to suck Ireland in and quick ball allowed England spread it wide through the hands for Jess Breach to show her turn of pace down the right.

That far channel proved extremely profitable for Simon Middleton’s side — their second try came down that avenue, and another one was correctly chalked off — as they seized control of the game to take a 13-0 lead into the break at a bitterly cold Donnybrook.

It was a shame for Ireland, who had battled valiantly but were ultimately unable to make up for a considerable size deficit in the collision zone, while England’s power up front meant the home side had to commit numbers to compete at the breakdown.

England’s strike play, particularly from deep, was lethal too. After Ireland had done brilliantly to win a turnover penalty on halfway, and Fowley launched a booming kick down the touchline, an overthrow very nearly resulted in an end-to-end breakaway score.

Prop Sarah Bern collected and carried all of 40 yards, showing incredible pace for a tighthead, to initiate a sweeping move before Breach was denied her second try of the evening by a brilliant covering tackle by fullback Lauren Delaney.

It was the loosehead, Hannah Botterman, who set the wheels in motion for England’s second score, despite Ireland’s tireless work in defending their own line for a period of sustained pressure under the shadow of the posts. 

Stretched wide again, England’s handling and decision-making was faultless, allowing Katy Daley Maclean — named player of the match — stab through a perfectly-weighted grubber for Sarah McKenna to dive on ahead of Alisa Hughes. 

Ireland continued to see plenty of the ball but ultimately weren’t doing enough with it against an obdurate English rearguard, although Leah Lyons gave the crowd something to cheer when she intercepted and broke for the line.

Nicole Fowley with Leanne Riley Nicole Fowley is tackled. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

The hooker didn’t have the pace to get home from 40 yards out, but again the frustration for Ireland was that there were no support runners with her, and the offload went to ground. 

England turned the screw after the break, as Ireland — having expended huge energy resources during their first-half effort — fell off the pace and off tackles, the difference between the amateur and professional set-ups ruthlessly exposed. 

It took the World Cup finalists all of two minutes of the second half to get over for their third try, as they capitalised on an Irish error to move within striking distance for the influential Bern to embellish her outstanding performance with a score. 

The fourth shortly followed. A powerful maul off an attacking five-metre lineout set the platform and hooker Lark Davies did the honours of falling over the whitewash, with out-half Mclean converting to make it a seven-pointer.

England showed no mercy as they pinned Ireland inside their own 22, and the floodgates duly opened. Mclean got in on the act in the 52nd minute after a nice offload from replacement flanker Rowena Burnfield.

Ireland briefly stemmed the tide by applying huge pressure on the England scrum — it was an area they enjoyed the upper-hand in — at the Bective end of the ground, and were eventually awarded a penalty try by referee Aimee Barrett-Theron.

It was a brief reprieve, as England were quickly back into their stride, as Zoe Harrison sauntered past the final line of green shirts to touch down, before Emily Scott followed suit in that same corner. 

Work to do and lessons learned, Ireland will come out of this harsh lesson all the better for it.

On a record-breaking night, at the end of which the Ireland players received a huge ovation from all four corners, there were reasons to be cheerful. 

Ireland scorers:

Tries: Penalty try. 

England scorers:

Tries: Jess Breach, Sarah McKenna, Sarah Bern, Lark Davies, Katy Daly-Mclean, Zoe Harrison, Emily Scott, Bryony Cleall. 
Conversions: Katy Daley-Mclean [4 from 8]. 
Penalties: Katy Daley-Mclean [1 from 1].

IRELAND: 15. Lauren Delany, 14. Eimear Considine, 13. Sene Naoupu, 12. Michelle Claffey, 11. Megan Williams, 10. Nicole Fowley, 9. Alisa Hughes; 1. Laura Feely, 2. Leah Lyons, 3. Fiona Reidy, 4. Aoife McDermott, 5. Nichola Fryday, 6. Juliet Short, 7. Claire Molloy, 8. Ciara Griffin (captain).

Replacements: 16. Emma Hooban, 17. Linda Djougang, 18. Anne Marie O’Hora, 19. Anna Caplice, 20. Claire McLaughlin, 21. Kathryn Dane, 22. Ellen Murphy, 23. Alison Miller.

ENGLAND: 15. Sarah McKenna, 14. Jess Breach, 13. Emily Scarratt, 12. Tatyana Heard, 11. Kelly Smith, 10. Katy Daley-Mclean, 9. Leanne Riley; 1. Hannah Botterman, 2. Lark Davies, 3. Sarah Bern, 4. Catherine O’Donnell, 5. Poppy Cleall, 6. Sarah Beckett, 7. Marlie Packer (Amy Cokayne 34′), 8. Sarah Hunter.

Replacements: 16. Amy Cokayne, 17. Bryony Cleall, 18. Shaunagh Brown, 19. Rosie Galligan, 20. Rowena Burnfield, 21. Natasha Hunt, 22. Zoe Harrison, 23. Emily Scott.

Referee: Aimee Barrett-Theron [South Africa].

Attendance: 4,637.

Simon Zebo joins Gavan and Murray for a special live recording of the podcast in Dublin’s Liberty Hall Theatre to preview Ireland’s Six Nations opener against England:

Source: The42 Rugby Weekly/SoundCloud

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About the author:

Ryan Bailey

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