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Dublin: -1°C Monday 25 January 2021

Ireland Women produce superb display of controlled aggression to shock champions New Zealand

A brilliant display of place-kicking from Niamh Briggs puts Ireland top of Pool B.

Paula Fitzpatrick tackled by Emma Jensen.
Paula Fitzpatrick tackled by Emma Jensen.
Image: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

New Zealand 14

Ireland 17

IRELAND WOMEN PRODUCED an incredible display of gutsy, organised rugby to record a historic victory over reigning champions New Zealand at the Rugby World Cup.

Tries from Heather O’Brien and Alison Miller, along with seven points from the boot of Niamh Briggs brought about the victory in the side’s second Pool B fixture in Marcoussis, France.

In the first ever meeting between the sides, Ireland paid little attention to the illustrious reputation of their opponents – winners of the past four World Cups – and produced a ferocious display to dominate the breakdown for vast swathes of the game.

Once Kiwi number 10 Kelly Brazier missed an early penalty the pressure was flowing at the Black Ferns and the Kiwi set-piece creaked under intense scrutiny from the Irish pack.

After a series of scrums which might have yielded a penalty try on anther day, the Ferns’ defence managed to cling on and keep Ireland from crossing the whitewash. Number eight Heather O’Brien going closest from a tap-and-go free kick only to be held up and bundled into touch.

Niamh Briggs tackled by Amiria Rule 5/8/2014 Niamh Briggs taken down in the first half. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Having survived that initial onslaught New Zealand steadied the ship on their next visit near the Ireland 22, Brazier finding the target with a straightforward penalty.

The Black Ferns’ next possession would be even more clinical; a turnover inside Ireland’s half quickly delivered to centre Huriana Manuel who fixed the onrushing defender to make sure the overlap was converted by Selica Winiata.

Rather than open the floodgates, however, that score merely proved to be a gap before another bout of Irish pressure.

This time, O’Brien found her reward. Scrum-half Tania Rosser brilliantly commanding the base of the ruck and biding her time before sending the number eight to drive her way over left of the posts to leave an easy conversion for Niamh Briggs to bring Ireland to within a point the scores 8 – 7 at half-time.

The trend would not continue after the break. Instead it flipped.

After Brazier extended the Kiwis’ lead to four points the reigning champs settled into a rhythm and forced Ireland to defend for extended phases of play. And defend they did.

After a full quarter frustrating the Black Ferns, Ireland cut loose. Kicks for territory were briefly exchanged between Brazier and Stapleton before Briggs grabbed her chance by the scruff of the neck.

The UL fullback collected possession just inside her own half and stepped to leave two defenders in her wake. Having created the opening, Briggs then found the pass, feeding Miller the chance to show her pace on a searing outside line into the left-hand corner.

An almost impossible angle for the conversion was made look ridiculously easy by Briggs. And she would raise the flags again 10 minutes from time to cancel out Brazier’s levelling penalty.

There was to be no unbearably tense ending to this one.

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Ireland had put in the hard yards, held New Zealand when they needed to and the final five minutes were spent in black territory. And when the champions did threaten to cross to within 50 metres, replacement Jenny Murphy came up with a brilliant breakdown poach to allow Ireland set up camp on the edge of the New Zealand 22.

From there, Ireland’s pack happily took ownership of yet another set-piece and made the ball disappear until the clock went red and Rosser could launch it into the crowd to seal a famous victory and put Ireland top of Pool B with eight points, two ahead of the Black Ferns.

Ireland scorers

Tries: H O’Brien, A Miller

Conversions: N Briggs  (2)

Penalty: N Briggs

New Zealand scorers

Try: S Winiata


Penalties: K Brazier (3)


NEW ZEALAND:: Selica Winiata (Manawatu); Renee Wickliffe (Counties Manukau), Huriana Manuel (Auckland), Amiria Rule (Canterbury), Honey Hireme (Waikato); Kelly Brazier (Otago), Emma Jensen (Canterbury); Kathleen Wilton (Otago), Fiao’o Fa’amausili (Auckland) (capt), Aleisha Nelson (Auckland), Eloise Blackwell (Auckland), Jackie Patea (Wellington), Rawinia Everitt (Counties Manukau), Linda Itunu (Auckland), Casey Robertson (Canterbury).

Replacements: Stephanie Te Ohaere-Fox (Canterbury), Ruth McKay (Manawatu), Justine Lavea (Auckland), Aroha Savage (Counties Manukau), Kendra Cocksedge (Canterbury), Claire Richardson (Auckland), Shakira Baker (Manawatu).

IRELAND: Niamh Briggs (UL Bohemians/Munster); Ashleigh Baxter (Belfast Harlequins/Ulster), Lynne Cantwell (Richmond/Exile), Grace Davitt (Cooke/Ulster), Alison Miller (Portlaoise/Connacht); Nora Stapleton (Old Belvedere/Leinster), Tania Rosser (Blackrock/Leinster); Fiona Coghlan (UL Bohemians/Leinster) (capt), Gillian Bourke (UL Bohemians/Munster), Ailis Egan (Old Belvedere/Leinster), Sophie Spence (Old Belvedere/Leinster), Marie Louise Reilly (Old Belvedere/Leinster), Paula Fitzpatrick (St. Mary’s College/Leinster), Claire Molloy (Bristol/Connacht), Heather O’Brien (Highfield/Munster).

Replacements: Sharon Lynch (Old Belvedere/Leinster), Fiona Hayes (UL Bohemians/Munster), Laura Guest (Highfield/Munster), Siobhan Fleming (Tralee/Munster), Larissa Muldoon (Bristol/Exile), Jenny Murphy (Old Belvedere/Leinster), Vikki McGinn (Blackrock/Leinster).

Referee: Leah Berard (USA)

Here’s the New Zealand women’s haka before their World Cup clash with Ireland

About the author:

Sean Farrell

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