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Incredible scenes as Ireland snatch last-gasp victory to end Six Nations on a high

Enya Breen was the late hero against Scotland at Kingspan Stadium.

Ireland's Edel McMahon celebrates Neve Jones’ try earlier in the game.
Ireland's Edel McMahon celebrates Neve Jones’ try earlier in the game.
Image: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

Ireland 15

Scotland 14

ENYA BREEN WAS the stoppage-time hero at Kingspan Stadium in Belfast tonight as Ireland ended the Women’s Six Nations on the most dramatic of highs.

Three points in front at the break, Greg McWilliams’ side looked set for a fourth defeat in five games – and a potential bottom place finish – when three successive Helen Nelson penalties put their opponents Scotland in the driving seat. However, having lost to a last-gasp converted try when the sides met in World Cup qualification in Parma last September, Ireland ensured their Celtic cousins suffered the same fate courtesy of Breen’s seven-point salvo at the death.

Playing in her home province, Neve Jones grabbed an opening-half try and was a deserving recipient of Player of the

Despite last week’s 69-0 away defeat at the hands of England – who secured a third Grand Slam in four seasons earlier in the day – Ireland head coach McWilliams made just three changes to his starting line-up for this game. Two of those were enforced with debutant Vicky Irwin and Nikki Caughey receiving the nod to replace injured duo Eimear Considine and Nicole Cronin in the back line.

Up front, the fit-again Sam Monaghan returned (at Aoife McDermott’s expense) to partner team captain Nichola Fryday in the second-row.

There was a carnival-like atmosphere in the build-up to kick-off but, once the action got underway, Ireland found themselves chasing the game almost immediately.

After opting for touch off a close-range penalty, the visitors had a number of opportunities to drive over the whitewash before No 8 Evie Gallagher eventually applied the finishing touches. Whilst the subsequent bonus strike from Nelson was off-target, the Scots had set out their stall in impressive style.

The game was still at a very early stage of course and Ireland eventually shook off some nerves to put pressure on the Scottish defence. A strong break by Breen got the crowd going, before the hosts finally opened their account in the 16th-minute.

Despite operating in the Irish pack, Galway native Hannah O’Connor is a regular place-kicker for both Leinster and Blackrock College. The industrious No 8 seemed slightly ambitious to be going for the posts from distance, but she superbly found the range with metres to spare.

Although Ireland dominated possession either side of the first-quarter mark, some handling errors – not helped by the persistent rainfall that descended upon Ravenhill – denied them precious momentum in the opposition half. O’Connor had a chance to edge Ireland in front off a turnover penalty on 27 minutes, but was inches short of the target on this occasion.

neve-jones-is-presented-with-her-tiktok-womens-six-nations-player-of-the-match-medal Neve Jones with her Player of the Match award. Source: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

Scotland did venture back into the Irish half as the play progressed, but outstanding defensive work from Linda Djougang and O’Connor blocked their path to the posts.

Whereas the half began with Ireland conceding a maul try, they ended it doing precisely the opposite. Caughey’s decision to kick a 38th-minute penalty to touch was a shrew one as an elongated set-piece move ended with the excellent Jones clinically dotting the ball down for her second try of the campaign.

Breen couldn’t supply the extras, but it didn’t prevent Ireland bringing a 8-5 buffer into the interval. Scotland had led by the same scoreline at the midway stage of their much-discussed meeting in Parma last year and given how the second half of that tie ebbed and flowed, it was difficult to predict what was going to unfold here.

Bryan Easson’s charges certainly weren’t put off by a three-point deficit and kept Ireland on the back-foot for much of the third-quarter. Although they never threatened to add a second try during this juncture, a routine Nelson penalty did level matters in the 53rd-minute and she repeated the trick to squeeze her side into the ascendancy on the hour.

With the wind very much behind her, Nelson landed another monstrous effort on the 10-metre to give her team a six-point stranglehold on the scoreboard.

In a bid to wrestle his outfit back into contention, McWilliams introduced a plethora of replacements – including the forward triumvirate of Katie O’Dwyer, Grace Moore and Maeve Og O’Leary.

A sustained spell inside the Scottish ’22’ (their first of the half) almost produced a second try inside the closing 10 minutes, but their stubborn Celtic counterparts turned over possession. A Jones charge down kept Scotland under the pump, though, and Ireland were suddenly relentless in their pursuit of a comeback victory.

It looked like it was going to be so near and yet so far, until Breen powered her way over the line to to the right of the posts in time added on. It was all down to the Cork woman at this point and she displayed nerves of steel to convert her own five-pointer and secure a one-point triumph for Ireland.

Ireland Scorers

Tries: Neve Jones, Enya Breen

Conversions: Hannah O’Connor [0 from 1], Enya Breen [1 from 1]

Penalties: Hannah O’Connor [1 from 2]

Scotland Scorers

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Tries: Evie Gallagher

Conversions: Helen Nelson [0 from 1]

Penalties: Helen Nelson [3 from 3]

IRELAND: Vicky Irwin; Aoife Doyle, Sene Naoupu, Enya Breen, Molly Scuffil-McCabe; Nikki Caughey (Michelle Claffey ’60), Kathryn Dane (Ailsa Hughes ’76); Linda Djougang, Neve Jones, Christy Haney (Katie O’Dwyer ’60); Nichola Fryday, Sam Monaghan; Dorothy Wall (Grace Moore ’65), Edel McMahon (Maeve Og O’Leary ’65), Hannah O’Connor.

Replacements: Emma Hooban, Chloe Pearse, Katie O’Dwyer, Aoife McDermott, Grace Moore, Maeve Og O’Leary, Ailsa Hughes, Michelle Claffey.

SCOTLAND: Chloe Rollie; Rhona Lloyd, Lisa Thomson, Helen Nelson, Shona Campbell (Emma Orr ’58); Sarah Law (Megan Gaffney ’58), Caity Mattinson; Molly Wright (Leah Bartlett ’65), Lana Skeldon, Christine Belisle; Emma Wassell, Sarah Bonar; Rachel Malcolm, Rachel McLachlan (Louise McMillan ’63); Evie Gallagher.

Replacements: Jodie Rettie, Leah Bartlett, Katie Dougan, Louise McMillan, Eva Donaldson, Mairi McDonald, Emma Orr, Megan Gaffney. 

Referee: Maggie Cogger-Orr (New Zealand).

BTL 5

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