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Three-try Ireland battle back from early loss of star Miller for first Six Nations win

They beat Italy 21-8 at Donnybrook.

Ireland 21

Italy 8

Emma Duffy reports from Donnybrook

IT WAS BY no means perfect but Ireland Women came away from Donnybrook this afternoon with their first win of the 2018 Six Nations campaign, following a 21-8 beating of Italy.

Alison Miller and Michela Sillari Alison Miller was forced off early. Source: Bryan Keane/INPHO

Tries from Megan Williams and Ciara Griffin (two), impressive kicking from the tee by Niamh Briggs and a Player of the Match performance from Claire Molloy helped Ireland across the line despite losing one of their stars, Alison Miller, early on.

After a battling but disappointing 24-0 Six Nations opener defeat to France, Ireland were vying to secure a Donnybrook debut victory for head coach Adam Griggs.

And they got what they came for.

With sizeable home support for their first outing at this venue since last March’s Grand Slam decider against England, Ireland started brightly with wing Miller getting stuck into the thick of the action immediately.

But with less than three minutes on the clock, her influence on the game was brought to an untimely finish.

Going into contact, she sustained a nasty ankle injury in the tackle with her pain evident immediately through screams heard around the ground. One of the three 2013 Grand Slam winners, Miller is the pedigree of player Ireland couldn’t afford to lose, particularly at such an early stage.

After a delay to see the injured party stretchered off, Griggs’ charges responded quite well and first crashed over the line after nine minutes. Megan Williams — who made her debut in France last week — was the player to plant the ball, while Briggs added the extras to make it 7-0.

Andrea Di Giandomenico’s Azzuri grew into the game more and more, with Maria Magatti and Sara Barattin leading the way but Ireland countered any issues accordingly, Kim Flood in particular handling anything that was thrown at her at full back.

Megan Williams on her way to scoring a try Megan Willims on her way to scoring Ireland's first try. Source: Bryan Keane/INPHO

That said, the home side did lack fluency at times and were slow on the release, committing some unacceptable handling errors. This allowed Italy — who were beaten 42-7 by reigning champions England last time out — to contest.

There were further injury concerns for Ireland as they navigated an error-ridden period without Sene Naoupu after being sent for HIA and replaced briefly by Michelle Claffey, but the 7s star soon returned to play.

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It wasn’t until the stroke of half-time that the visitors opened their account, when Michela Sillari capped a tenacious first-half performance by splitting the posts with a penalty.

On the restart, another try looked imminent for the ever-attacking Ireland. They were on the front foot and putting Italy under the pump time and time again.

That long-awaited moment came in the 66th minute when captain Ciara Griffin barged over, capitalising on impressive work in the scrum. Briggs was there once again to split the posts with the conversion.

The 74th minute saw the TMO deny Ireland a third try, following on from questions over whether Briggs managed to ground the ball. That only sparked the Girls in Green further to life though with Lindsay Peat and substitute Leah Lyons working hard before Griffin landed her second try of the afternoon in the closing minutes.

Briggs completed her 100% kicking record from the conversion as her last act before being replaced, and was greeted warmly to the line by the crowd.

Eleonora Ricci and Niamh Briggs Niamh Briggs in action. Source: Bryan Keane/INPHO

The Italians didn’t give up though, Eleanora Ricci scoring a try at the death as Griggs emptied his bench but Ireland ran out 21-8 winners at home.

Ireland scorers:
Tries: Megan Williams, Ciara Griffin [2]
Conversions: Niamh Briggs [3 from 3]
Italy scorers:
Tries: Eleanora Ricci
Penalties: Michela Sillari [1 from 1]

IRELAND WOMEN: Kim Flood (Railway Union/ Leinster); Megan Williams (Old Belvedere/ Leinster), Katie Fitzhenry (Blackrock College/ Leinster), Sene Naoupu (Old Belvedere/ Leinster) (Michelle Claffey HIA), Alison Miller (Old Belvedere /Connacht) (Claire McLaughlin ’4), Niamh Briggs (UL Bohemian / Munster) (Michelle Claffey ’77), Ailsa Hughes (Railway Union/ Leinster) (Nicole Cronin ’50); Lindsay Peat (Railway Union/ Leinster) (Laura Feely ’79), Cliodhna Moloney (Railway Union/ Leinster) (Ciara O’Connor ’61), Fiona Reidy (UL Bohemian/ Munster) (Leah Lyons ’50), Paula Fitzpatrick (St Mary’s/ Leinster), Nichola Fryday (Tullamore/ Connacht), Anna Caplice (UL Bohemians/ Munster) (Edel McMahon ’79), Claire Molloy (Bristol / Connacht), Ciara Griffin (Tralee/ Munster) Captain.

ITALY WOMEN: Manuela Furlan (Iniziative Villorba Rugby); Sofia Stefan (Stade Rennais Rugby), Michela Sillari (Rugby Colorno), Beatrice Rigoni (Valsugana Rugby Padova), Maria Magatti (Rugby Monza 1949), Jessica Busato (Inziative Villorba Rugby) (Aura Muzzo ’67), Sara Barattin (Inziative Villorba Rugby) Captain; Eleonora Ricci (C.R.A.T. A Corna), Melissa Bettoni (Stade Rennais Rugby), Lucia Gai (Stade Rennais Rugby), Valentina Ruzza (Valsugana R. Padova) (Giada Franco ’25), Giordana Duca (Frascati Rugby Club 2015), Beatrice Veronese (Valsugna R. Padova), Isabella Locatelli (Rugby Monza 1949), Ilaria Arrighetti (Stade Rennais Rugby).

Referee: Tim Baker (HK)

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Emma Duffy

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