Ireland power to first win of Six Nations with impressive bonus-point performance

Greg McWilliams’ side showed their promise with a comprehensive five-try success against Italy.

Ireland 29

Italy 8

JUST ACROSS THE road is the Funderland amusement park but if anyone was looking for thrills, they were better off in Musgrave Park.

Ireland notched their first win of the 2022 Women’s Six Nations in impressive fashion, scoring five tries to secure a bonus point with a performance that underlined plenty of promise for Greg McWilliams’ side.

neve-jones-celebrates-scoring-her-sides-second-try Ryan Byrne / INPHO Neve Jones scored for Ireland in the first half. Ryan Byrne / INPHO / INPHO

They had tough outings in their two defeats to Wales and France over the past fortnight but this was much better from Ireland in front of a very lively crowd of 5,039 on a blustery evening in Cork.

Having struggled to give their talented backline clean possession from the set-piece up until now, the Irish pack produced a muscular display that featured a penalty try at the scrum just a week after being taken apart by the French in that area. Making her first Test start, tighthead prop Christy Haney contributed strongly.

With outstanding second row Sam Monaghan and superb number eight Hannah O’Connor leading the way, ably assisted by the likes of Linda Djougang and Edel McMahon, the Irish forwards were able to dominate the Italians for long periods.

Inside centre Stacey Flood was the pick of the backline, using her left boot intelligently to pin Italy back and throwing some excellent passes too.

Lucy Mulhall finished Ireland’s first try after her move to fullback, hooker Neve Jones dotted down at the back of a powerful maul, and centre Eve Higgins raced clear for a lovely score. Sub prop Katie O’Dwyer grabbed the fifth Irish try.

Perhaps the pick of the bunch from Ireland, though, was a try that was rather incredibly disallowed in the opening half, a superb team effort capped off by wing Amee-Leigh Murphy Crowe but chalked off in controversial fashion.

It will be fascinating to see what happens next with this Ireland side. They travel to England in two weekends’ time to face the best team in the world and are set to lose several of their backline as they return to Ireland 7s duty.

But today was all about notching a win and they did so in a convincing manner.

lucy-mulhall-celebrates-scoring-the-first-try Ryan Byrne / INPHO Lucy Mulhall scored Ireland's first try. Ryan Byrne / INPHO / INPHO

The Italians had a decent start and opened the scoring four minutes in as centre Beatrice Rigoni slotted a penalty from in front of the posts after Linda Djougang was pinged at the breakdown.

Ireland showed lots of attacking intent but their eagerness expressed itself as handling errors at first. Italians were struggling to exit from their own 22 and Ireland spent lots of time down there in the opening half. 

The Irish breakthrough finally came just after the quarter-mark as they were twice awarded penalty advantages in the same passage, which ended with out-half Nicole Cronin throwing a lovely floated pass wide left for fullback Mulhally to score.

McWilliams’ side should have had a brilliant second try in the 32nd minute as they played out from their own 22 with sharp passing and offloading, powerful carrying, clinical rucking, a classy Cronin chip kick for Flood to gather, and then what looked like a perfect finish from right wing Murphy Crowe.

But French referee Aurelie Groizeleau made the baffling decision to rule it out, stating that Murphy Crowe had been tackled just before the tryline and not released the ball. Her TMO, Eric Gauzins, seemingly tried to talk the referee around but she stood with her call to Irish bemusement.

Ireland kept coming, a Flood breakdown turnover allowing them back in, and Italy number eight Elisa Giordano was sin-binned when she was caught offside close to the Italian tryline.

neve-jones-celebrates-scoring-her-sides-second-try-with-linda-djougang Ryan Byrne / INPHO Ireland led 10-3 at the half-time break. Ryan Byrne / INPHO / INPHO

Ireland made their numerical advantage count swiftly as the forward pack powered up their maul and Jones dotted down at the back to give Ireland a 10-3 lead. They finished the half on defence but Cronin forced a turnover penalty with her counter-rucking effort. 

McWilliams’ side had the perfect start to the second half as O’Connor came up with her second breakdown turnover of the game and then scrum-half Kathryn Dane box-kicked.

It looked like something of a mis-hit kick just in behind the 14-woman Italian defence but it was beautifully reeled in on the full by the alert Higgins to sprint home from 40 metres out. Cronin added the extras for 17-3.

Ireland’s next chance came after a clever kick by Flood into space, with Murphy Crowe chasing hard to force Maria Magatti back over her own tryline for an Irish five-metre scrum.

In what was a huge turnaround from last weekend’s scrum hammering at the hands of France, the Irish pack produced two huge scrums – the second one marching towards the tryline and ensuring Groizeleau had to give the penalty try.

eve-higgins-celebrates-after-scoring-a-try-with-her-teammates Ben Brady / INPHO Eve Higgins raced clear for a brilliant try. Ben Brady / INPHO / INPHO

With the game becoming a little stop-start, 19-year-old back row Aoife Wafer made her Test debut off the bench for Ireland although she was yellow-carded for a dangerous clearout soon after coming on.

Ireland put the icing on the cake with four minutes left as replacement prop O’Dwyer pounced on a botched Italian lineout close to their own tryline, sparking raucous celebrations from McWilliams’ players.

Happily, Wafer returned from the sin bin to win a breakdown turnover on what was a good day for Ireland.

Ireland scorers:

Tries: Lucy Mulhall, Neve Jones, Eve Higgins, penalty try, Katie O’Dwyer

Conversions: Nicole Cronin [1 from 4]

Italy scorers:

Tries: Melissa Bettoni

Conversions: Beatrice Rigoni [0 from 1]

Penalties: Beatrice Rigoni [1 from 1]

IRELAND: Lucy Mulhall; Amee-Leigh Murphy Crowe (Enya Breen ’64), Eve Higgins, Stacey Flood, Beibhinn Parsons (Aoife Doyle ’60); Nicole Cronin, Kathryn Dane (Aoibheann Reilly ’70); Linda Djougang (Chloe Pearse ’66), Neve Jones (Emma Hooban ’61), Christy Haney (Katie O’Dwyer ’61); Nichola Fryday (captain) (Brittany Hogan ’60), Sam Monaghan; Dorothy Wall (Aoife Wafer ’60 (yellow card ’67), Edel McMahon, Hannah O’Connor.

ITALY: Vittoria Ostuni Minuzzi; Manuela Furlan (captain); Alyssa D’Incà, Beatrice Rigoni, Maria Magatti; Veronica Madia (Sofia Stefan ‘HT) , Sara Barattin; Gaia Maris (Vittoria Vecchini ’60), Melissa Bettoni (Emanuela Stecca ’77), Lucia Gai (Sara Seye ’77); Sara Tounesi (Alessia Margotti ’73), Valeria Fedrighi; Beatrice Veronese, Isabella Locatelli (Alessandra Frangipani ’54), Elisa Giordano (yellow card ’34).

Replacements not used: Beatrice Capomaggi, Federica Cipolla

Referee: Aurelie Groizeleau [FFR].

- This article was updated at 11.19am on 11 April to correct the name of the referee listed at the end of the article from Sara Cox to Aurelie Groizeleau.

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