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Ireland's World Cup hopes get a shot in the arm after deserved win over Italy

Ireland defeated Italy 15-7 in Parma today with tries from wingers Beibhinn Parsons and Amee-Leigh Murphy Crowe.

Beibhinn Parsons scores a try.
Beibhinn Parsons scores a try.
Image: Giuseppe Fama/INPHO

Ireland 15

Italy 7

A VICTORY FOR Ireland and also a victory for their character. They took a fair bit of flak in the aftermath of last week’s World Cup qualifier defeat to Spain. Knowing another defeat today could have ended their qualification hopes, they showed admirable resilience to eke out a narrow win.

Better again, they denied the Italians a losing bonus point. Should they defeat Scotland next week, and do so with a bonus point attached, the memory of that Spanish defeat will fade completely.

Today’s display was much better. Defensively Ireland were outstanding; their work at the breakdown was equally dominant, while the quality of their wingers’ finishing bordered on brilliance. Beibhinn Parsons got their first try and then created the second for Amee-Leigh Murphy Crowe.

Elsewhere there were big performances from Eve Higgins, Ciara Griffin, Cliodhna Moloney, Linda Djougang and Stacey Flood. Not only did Ireland deserve this win, they should have won by more and would have done so if their handling had not repeatedly let them down in the second half.

Still, this was an exceptional result given the circumstances. They’re level now with Italy on five points from two matches. It’s Spain next for the Italians, Scotland for Ireland. A World Cup spot is still there to play for.

Italy showed ambition from the start, not just in terms of their willingness to keep the ball in hand but also in terms of their desire to test the Irish midfield. But even early on, it was clear they weren’t going to win as many collisions on this day as they obtained against Scotland last week.

They were profiting, however, from a superior set-piece, three scrum penalties going Italy’s way in the first 20 minutes, backed up by a key steal at an Irish line-out five metres from their own line. Considering these advantages, you’d imagine Italy would have gained momentum.

They didn’t as Ireland’s defence was as brave as it was organised. Better again they were excelling at the breakdown, Griffin and Edel McMahon doing superb work in this department.

ciara-griffin Ciara Griffin on the charge. Source: Giuseppe Fama/INPHO

Nothing in that first-half, however, impressed as much as the 22nd minute move that saw the ball spin from right wing to left, Flood pulling the strings, Murphy Crowe delivering a splendid offload, the pressure mounting, eventually leading to a penalty. Flood struck the upright with her kick.

The heat stayed on. Not only was Ireland’s defence reaching 10/10 levels of excellence but scrum-half, Kathryn Dane was also making a huge impression, setting a high tempo for Ireland’s attack, mixing her game smartly with a clever 27th minute grubber kick that led to an Irish scrum five metres from the Italian line.

Again Ireland threatened, Parsons stepping off her right foot to get within metres of the line. But yet again Italy held on, forcing the turnover.

Eventually the dam burst, Dane and Flood putting width on the ball, Parsons showing the pace and skill to touch down in the corner – no more than she, and Ireland, deserved. While Flood didn’t get the extras, the lead was crucial.

Back came Italy. They entered the Ireland 22 for just the second time in the match on 35 minutes and stayed there for phase after phase after phase, winning two penalties, opting not to kick either. Despite the efforts, they didn’t cross the Ireland line – Griffin and Cliodhna Moloney with some try-saving tackles before Flood sold the most outrageous dummy imaginable to escape Italian clutches and allow Ireland get out of their own 22.

You sensed then that passage of play would be huge in the context of this game – Italy having failed to breach the Irish defence, Flood showing the confidence, and later the tactical awareness, to get her team out of trouble.

ciara-griffin Italy edged proceedings in the scrum. Source: Giuseppe Fama/INPHO

As half-time came and went you knew Ireland had a distinct advantage, not just on the scoreboard, also in the psychological stakes. They’d weathered a storm; their defence had proven to have every answer to Italy’s attack. They were looking good.

They were looking even better a minute into the second half when Djougang, their dynamic tighthead, stormed through the Italian defence, driving to within 10 metres of the line. What she needed was a strong support runner; instead she was left isolated and while Ireland built a couple more phases, they lacked speed and organisation in attack to finish the move off.

It wasn’t the last time this issue would frustrate Ireland – but before we return to this issue, there was a bigger irritant for Ireland to deal with as full-back, Eimear Considine, was harshly yellow-carded for a high tackle.

In her absence, an element of panic crept into Ireland’s decision-making. Otherwise they’d played a smart game, but when Murphy Crowe chose to kick rather than take a more conservative running option on 48 minutes, Ireland suffered, Italy counter-attacking, Beatrice Rigoni eventually scoring.

Now 7-5 ahead, and with Ireland’s handling errors beginning to mount, Rigini’s subsequent yellow card for a deliberate knock on, changed the game back in Ireland’s favour. After kicking for touch from the penalty, Ireland retained possession off the set piece and won a second, successive penalty in front of the posts. Flood nailed it, Ireland were back in front.

Four minutes later came another moment of magic from Parsons, who sliced through the Italian defence, setting up the space for Flood and Considine to exploit. Credit Murphy Crowe for the quality of her finishing, as well as her awareness to touch down nearer the posts, allowing Flood make her kick. 15-7, Ireland.

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And that was how it finished. A third try wouldn’t have been undeserved. With a little more composure, they would have got it. Most important of all, though, they got the win. Today, that was all that mattered.

Ireland scorers

Tries: Parsons, Murphy Crowe

Conversions: Flood (1/2)

Penalties: Flood (1/2)

Italy scorers

Try: Beatrice Rigoni

Conversion: Michela Sillari

IRELAND: Eimear Considine; Amee-Leigh Murphy Crowe, Eve Higgins, Sene Naoupu, Beibhinn Parsons; Stacey Flood (Enya Breen ’78), Kathryn Dane (Emily Lane 65); Laura Feely (Lindsay Peat ’53), Cliodhna Moloney, Linda Djougang; Nichola Fryday, Sam Monaghan; Dorothy Wall, Edel McMahon (Claire Molloy ’57), Ciara Griffin (Brittany Hogan ’72).

Replacements: Neve Jones, Leah Lyons, Lauren Delany.

About the author:

Garry Doyle

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