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Disappointment for Ireland as McWilliams era opens with defeat to Wales at RDS

A dominant second-half showing from the visitors saw them win 27-19 in front of a record crowd.

Ireland out-half Nicole Cronin dejected after the final whistle.
Ireland out-half Nicole Cronin dejected after the final whistle.
Image: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Updated Mar 26th 2022, 7:40 PM

Ireland 19

Wales 27

IT ULTIMATELY ENDED in defeat and disappointment, but this was the beginning of a new chapter and a fresh start which certainly showed glimpses of Irish promise.

There was an overriding air of excitement and positivity this week as the Greg McWilliams era officially got underway, and that continued at a sun-kissed RDS this evening, despite an opening Six Nations defeat to Wales.

Ireland led until the 73rd minute as a record crowd of 6,113 watched on, but Wales capped an utterly dominant second-half showing with three unanswered tries when the hosts went down to 14 players. Eimear Considine was sin-binned late on.

This could perhaps be seen as a shock — the Welsh halting a run of seven straight losses in this competition — but no Irish quick-fixes were promised, and all must be considered.

The last time these sides met, Ireland were 45-0 winners en route to a third-place finish in last year’s Six Nations, but the gut-wrenching failure to qualify for the World Cup and dramatic fallout which followed overshadowed all else in 2021.

Ioan Cunningham’s Wales, meanwhile, are preparing for said World Cup, with new professional structures in place after their own recent problems — and while Ireland had been the more dominant force in recent Six Nations fare, there was no real form guide to follow.

The many changes in the Irish set-up on and off the pitch added to that; 15 of the matchday 23 had fewer than 10 international appearances to their names, with scrum-half Aoibheann Reilly among today’s debutantes.

It was a nervy start for this new-look Ireland, truth be told. They coughed up several penalties early on and struggled to gain a real foothold. Patience and discipline was needed, though Stacey Flood and Lucy Mulhall were certain bright sparks, while Eve Higgins, Dorothy Wall and Linda Djougang also laid down early markers as Ireland dealt with the hosts’ pressure. Danger woman Jazz Joyce was particularly electric, with mazy runs on the left wing.

10 minutes in, Ireland started moving through the gears. The line-out was one area of joy, with Neve Jones finding Sam Monaghan time and time again, while they held their own at scrum time early on, despite the notable difference in weight.

Handling errors let the hosts down in midfield at times, but as they gained territory, they grew in confidence.

And they hit the first blow on the scoreboard on 18 minutes; Amee-Leigh Murphy Crowe finishing off a delightful team try. A wave of green worked through the phases before Flood found her fellow Sevens flyer with a sumptuous pass, and she showed her wheels to finish in the corner. Out-half Nicole Cronin added the extras, nailing a difficult kick to make it 7-0.

From there, Wales enjoyed a purple patch and threatened. Considine was solid at full-back, and Ireland produced some big turnovers, but they ran into problems at times with discipline around the ruck. The damn eventually broke during a dramatic two-minute spell before the 30 minute-mark, but they responded immediately.

First, Carys Phillips got Wales off the mark with their opening try. They won a line-out five metres out and mauled over, though Elinor Snowsill missed from the tee.

Immediately after, and under the posts at the other end, Linda Djougong powered over to roars from the crowd. Again, it was a nicely-worked team move, with Monaghan providing the assist through a slick offload, while Cronin made it two conversions from two and 14-5.

It turned into a real battle as half time approached, and Ireland were really buoyed by the electric atmosphere and energy of the home crowd. While there were errors, moments of individual brilliance – from more Monaghan offloads to Higgins all over – and ambition made up for it, as McWilliams’ side experimented and expressed themselves, showing glimpses of a really attractive attacking game.

Natalia John caused issues though, asking serious questions alongside captain Siwan Lillicrap and the impressive Player of the Match Alisha Butchers, and Wales never went away.

Signalling their intent, they started on the front foot in the second half; prodding, probing and swinging momentum in their favour with a try looking imminent. That came in the 47th minute, when Joyce capped a commanding spell by finishing expertly in the corner. Again, Snowsill’s conversion attempt fell short so the scoreline stood 14-10.

Wales remained firmly in the driving seat, and Ireland were afforded a massive sigh of relief after a TMO check. They looked to have dotted down from another driving maul off a line-out, but a penalty was awarded against them for obstruction in the set-piece.

McWilliams introduced fresh legs from there, with superstar Béibhinn Parsons and debutant Anna McGann among those drafted in to help wrestle back control.

That, they did — momentarily, anyway — when Flood bagged Ireland’s third try in the 57th minute, touching down in the corner after good work from Considine in the build-up.

But Wales set up shop again in their half thereafter, and reaped the rewards of their presence in the Irish ’22 with another driving maul try. This time, it was substitute Donna Rose who struck the final blow, with another missed conversion a let-off for Ireland with the score 19-15.

As they looked to steady the ship, an unfortunate Considine knock-on invited more Welsh pressure. Things went from bad to worse for the Clare woman when she was shown yellow for not rolling away at the breakdown, paying the price for Ireland giving away repeated penalties.

And while the hosts did their utmost to hold firm, they couldn’t deny the sheer physicality of their opponents — or Rose a second as Wales pushed through in the 74th minute. A successful conversion from replacement out-half Robyn Wilkins made it 22-19.

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And Wales finished with a flourish; Hannah Jones breaking away to cap an utterly dominant second half.

Wilkins failed to add the extras, but that certainly didn’t matter for the visitors.

While they basked in the glory and emotion of victory, Ireland showed their appreciation for the crowd with a sense of disappointment but hope for what’s to come in the air.

Ireland scorers:

Tries: Amee Leigh Murphy Crowe, Linda Djougang, Stacey Flood 

Conversions: Nicole Cronin [2 from 3]

Penalties:

Wales scorers:

TriesCarys Phillips, Jazz Joyce, Donna Rose [2], Hannah Jones

Conversions: Elinor Snowsill [0 from 3], Robyn Wilkins [1 from 2]

IRELAND: Eimear Considine; Amee-Leigh Murphy Crowe (Beibhinn Parsons ’54), Eve Higgins, Stacey Flood, Lucy Mulhall (Enya Breen ’63); Nicole Cronin, Aoibheann Reilly (Kathryn Dane ’59); Linda Djougang, Neve Jones, Katie O’Dwyer (Chloe Pearse ’54), Nichola Fryday (captain) (Hannah O’Connor ’79), Sam Monaghan, Dorothy Wall, Edel McMahon, Brittany Hogan (Anna McGann ’62).

WALES: Kayleigh Powell; Lisa Neumann, Hannah Jones, Kerin Lake, Jasmine Joyce; Elinor Snowsill (Robyn Wilkins ’70), Keira Bevan (Ffion Lewis ’55); Gwenllian Pyrs (Cara Hope ’55), Carys Phillips (Kelsey Jones 52), Cerys Hale, Natalia John (Sioned Harries ’52), Gwen Crabb, Alisha Butchers, Alex Callender (Bethan Lewis ’62), Siwan Lillicrap (captain).

Referee: Kat Roche (USA).

About the author:

Emma Duffy  / Reports from the RDS

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