‘Transition’ has been a word thrown around in relation to both camps, and it’s perhaps time to stop using said word when it comes to the women. As the Irish women face into qualifiers for the next World Cup, the ghosts of the home soil tournament of 2017 still linger. But it’s time to put that 7th place playoff defeat to Wales (which means Ireland have to qualify this time around) to rest. Since winning the Six Nations in 2015, there’s been talk of transition. This is the year that transition needs to be made. Scotland were the only team Ireland beat in last years Six Nations. A record like that won’t do again with World Cup qualifiers upcoming.
The format for the World Cup qualifiers has yet to be set. It will be Italy, Ireland, and Scotland up against Spain. The winners will qualify, with the runners-up going into the repechage. It will either be a round-robin group or a two-legged semi-final with a final. The seeding will be determined by World Rankings at the end of the Six Nations. Before kick off I the first game, Ireland sat in 10th, with Scotland in 11th.
Ireland 18 – 14 Scotland
There won’t be much skin left on the teeth of Irish rugby fans after Ireland women beat Scotland women in the same close manner as the men. It went right to the wire on both occasions. In the end the game was as close as the two teams rankings. Early on however, it was Ireland who were on top. In the first twenty minutes Ireland were camped in Scotland’s half. Murphy kicked an early penalty, before the try eventually came.
With 10 minutes gone, Naoupu played an excellent pass to Parsons who crucially got the ball out fast. Possession found it’s way to hooker Cliodhna Moloney, dummied a pass and a barrelled over. It was a great moment for the Wasps player, who had missed much of last season with injury.
Ireland continued to find gaps in the Scottish defence. Lindsey Peat nearly got away before Naoupu nearly found her way through. Ireland were playing all the rugby and they got their 2nd try. Evergreen centre Sene Naoupu got over on her 36th birthday. The conversion fell just short.
Ireland were playing great rugby with Aoife Doyle looking dangerous out wide. The Scottish penalty count racking up. But it was very much a half of two halves and by the 25th minute the game had turned into a bit more of an arm wrestle, Scotland were getting into it. Cliodhna Moloney got an accidental knee in the end by Hannah Smith, with the Scot injuring herself in the process. Moloney had to go off for a HIA, later made permanent, Victoria Dabanovich O’Mahoney came on for her 2nd cap, having made her debut in November against Wales. Her grandfather had played for Munster.
Ireland began to give away a lot of penalties for not rolling away. Scotland were on top on the scrum. With the clock in red Scotland got the pay-off, Lisa Thomson got over after a few phases of picking and going. A key try at the end of the first half. A quick check with the TMO brought no problems, Helen Nelson converted. The halftime team talk would have had to be rescripted somewhat after that late score.
There was a blow for Ireland as Ciara Griffin went off injured. The second half started with Lauren Delaney nearly getting away, reminiscent of her try against England in Twickenham in a November international a few years ago. The first ten minutes were tumultuous. Scotland had chances, but like the men’s team on Saturday weren’t clinical.
Scotland were looking more and more dangerous, they just lacked that bit of quality. It was high risk play and they nearly got caught out a few times, before being on the receiving end of a potential knockout blow.
With 18 ½ minutes to go Scotland had a lineout deep in Irish territory. They played in short pick and drives. Scotland had an advantage, Ireland were getting dangerously close to a card. Scotland nearly got the ball down on the base of the post by the hand of Smith, but it was knocked on. The ref warned Ireland for being offside. Scotland had a scrum on the 5 meter line. It Looked for all the world like Scotland would get over.
But just like that, 18 year old Beibhinn Parsons intercepted and rans from her own 5 meter line, nobody had a hope of catching her. The winger didn’t have a lot of ball throughout the game but her pace showed here. Parsons touched down.
That was a massive psychological blow for Scotland. Nicole Cronin took over the kicking duties with her conversion attempt falling short. Scotland went from being inches away to being 11 points down.
With ten minutes to go Scotland went back to putting Ireland under pressure. Leah Lyons was sent to the bin. Emma Wassell got over with 4 ½ to go. Skeldon landed a conversion from a tight angle. It was a case of surviving for Ireland with 4 points in the game.
An agonising knockon with a minute to go meant Ireland had a scrum. They simply needed to keep the ball at this stage. Scotland won a penalty at the scrum with the clock in red, Scotland had a lineout midway in the Irish half. It was an awkward throw. Ireland turned the ball over and cleared it. It was a sigh of relief type of game.
Coach Adam Griggs will be concerned at the Ireland having 13 penalties conceded. But ultimately it’s a win that was very much needed. Winning the 3 home games is key. Part 1 complete.
While there were problems with basics at times, Ireland had some stand outs. Recently turned pro Anna Caplice played well at 8, considering she’s more of a 6. Edel McMahon showed a phenomenal workrate, showing she’s up to the big task of replacing Claire Molloy.
Ireland 31 – 12 Wales
Ireland fell to Wales in a November international last year, and have struggles against them recently. Ever since losing to them in that play-off at the World Cup that we shall not speak of to fail to qualify for 2021 automatically, they’ve been the bogey team. This game was always going to be a bigger ask than the Scotland game (who are traditional the weakest side in the Women’s Six Nations). But as I said earlier, 3 home wins were a must for momentum going into the World Cup Qualifiers.
Despite a biblical down pouring that would make you think somebody was building an ark, the Irish did the basics well and showed guts. 5 tries made for good reading after a patchy start against Scotland. It was a load off for the girls in green to vanquish a side they had struggled against with a bonus point.
Parsons got the key score last week, and she was at it again this time around getting the first score. Tries from Moloney and Delaney showed Ireland’s dominance. Wales had actually started the game brighter, and would touch down through Smyth late in the first half. But it was all about Ireland.
In the second half Djougang crossed over before Lillicrap got one back for Wales. That’s an issue for Ireland, conceding tries in the ten minute blocks either side of half time. We saw in the Champions Cup Final last year how crucial those minutes are. Generally if a team can score and not concede they’ll have a good chance of going on to win the game. It’s something that has to be looked at by Griggs and staff.
That would be it for the scoring in a 2nd half that was marred by the conditions until the clock was in red. Ireland got a penalty try late on. Conversion wise Keohane hit 2 out of 4 for Ireland (Penalty tries are an automatic 7 points), and Wilkins got one for Wales. The Welsh finished out the first half with 14 as Pyrs was sent to the bin.
Two wins from two in the Six Nations makes for good reading after a poor campaign last year. England offer a difficult test when the tournament returns. The final two games are Italy at home and France away. A win against the Italians would leave Ireland on course to finish in the top half.