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Dublin: 10°C Friday 7 May 2021

Ireland lead the Six Nations after their great escape in Scotland

Jenny Murphy’s return was among the positives in a poor performance from Tom Tierney’s side.

Murray Kinsella reports from Cumbernauld

THERE ARE NO two ways about it: Ireland pulled off an escape at Broadwood Stadium on Friday night.

Their 22-15 win over Scotland was essentially a robbery. Did Ireland deserve to win? Probably not, but they head into the second round of the Six Nations top of the table.

“We’re very, very lucky that we got a win with a bonus point,” said ultra-relieved head coach Tom Tierney afterwards.

Jade Konkle tackles Paula Fitzpatrick Ireland captain Paula Fitzpatrick on the charge. Source: Craig Watson/INPHO

The game was locked at 15-15 as the clock ran past 80 minutes, but somehow – after a poor performance – Ireland found the composure to build one final close-range attack and Nora Stapleton’s pass sent centre Jenny Murphy crashing over for the winner.

“Fair enough, we didn’t get the win in the way that we wanted, but the character that the girls showed to come back to be really focused and resilient in that pressure minute, that last 18 seconds,” said captain Paula Fitzpatrick.

“That was invaluable to us and it will probably stand to us in the coming games.”

Despite the disappointing quality of the performance that had come before, Ireland had unwavering belief in that endgame.

“Our training, right after Christmas we put in a lot of hours, weekend camps and stuff like that,” said try scorer Murphy. “It was really tough physical training. In the 70th minute, we were looking around and being like, ‘We aren’t tired, we are good.’

“Everyone switched on. We knew what we had to do. The fact that we were able to do that under that much pressure under those weather conditions says a lot, and we just have to do that for the 80 minutes next week and we should be good to go.”

Ireland now look towards a trip to Italy, who were beaten 20-8 by Wales on the opening weekend. Improvement will be required in the coming weeks, with the error count too high in admittedly horrible weather conditions in Cumbernauld.

Ireland’s kicking game was not up to the required standard, as they struggled to get any foothold in Scottish territory in the second half.

Jenny Murphy celebrates scoring the winning try Ireland celebrate Jenny Murphy's winning try. Source: Craig Watson/INPHO

“Especially between our 22 and the halfway line, we were bogged down there because we weren’t in a position to build pressure through territory,” said Tierney.

“That will be a key area for us, especially away from home against Italy. We’ll have to employ a kicking game that will give us a better return than tonight.”

But the positives were clear too, aside from the nature of how Ireland stole win at the very death.

Debutant scrum-half Ailsa Hughes looks like an excellent addition, with her sharp passing inviting ball carriers forward and occasionally sparking the Irish backline.

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“Ailsa has been playing for the last few years with Railway Union and with the ball like that, the quality of the pass from both girls – Mary Healy when she came on – was very impressive,” said Tierney.

“We’re very pleased that she got her first cap, acquitted herself very well in a lot of areas, and she’s a good player.”

Ireland’s scrum was another strong point, while the return of Murphy in the 13 shirt was very welcome after her injury problems and involvement in the women’s sevens programme in recent seasons.

“The last time I played for Ireland 15s was here [in 2015],” said Murphy. “So fond memories of here, and the girls have been great. Whoever was on the end of that ball was going to get it over the line.

“The forwards had done extremely well, put in a lot of work, and Nora’s ball to me, anyone would have put it over the tryline. It just so it happened I was lucky enough to get my hands on the ball and go over.”

Alison Miller Ali Miller is always a threat for Ireland. Source: Craig Watson/INPHO

Her midfield partnership with Sene Naoupu looked extremely promising, with flashes of an understanding evident in offloads and clever running lines off each other.

Wing Ali Miller was typically effective with ball in hand too, also scoring one of Ireland’s four tries.

“Once you get her hands on the ball, she tends to do a bit of damage, whether it’s making yards or sucking people in,” said Murphy. “She is the most awkward person ever to tackle. And I know because I have tackled her a few times.”

Clearly, Ireland have the component parts to deliver better performances than what we saw on Friday night, with a couple more faces still to return.

The powerful Sophie Spence is one possibility to come into the side for the Italy clash, having missed out last weekend. The good news is that Spence has fully recovered from her concussion issues.

“Fingers crossed Sophie is next week, hopefully,” said Tierney. “It was just a couple of slight knocks from coming back and not being 100% and just working through it. She’s nearly there and hopefully she’ll be available, along with one or two more.”

Unfortunately, regular captain Niamh Briggs is still not in the clear with her hamstring injury yet, but Tierney is pleased with the fullback’s progress.

“Niamh won’t be available next week, but is well on the way. We just have to be careful with that one. It’s important that we make sure it’s 100% when she comes back.”

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Murray Kinsella

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