Ireland 7 England 34: England’s women captured their first Six Nations title since 2012 as they swept to victory in a pulsating Grand Slam decider at Donnybrook last night.
In front of a crowd of 6,105 enjoying a double header begun earlier in the evening with England’s men’s U20s also securing a Grand Slam, Ireland had proven stubborn opponents until a 58th-minute yellow card for replacement back-rower Mairead Coyne proved the turning point.
Having trailed 5-0 at half-time, Ireland conceded another try after the interval but Coyne’s sin-binning for a deliberate knock-on opened the floodgates, England scoring a further two tries with the numerical advantage and then a killer blow with seven minutes to go.
Ireland, captained once more by Paula Fitzpatrick in the absence of injured Niamh Briggs, showed one change from the previous weekend’s 12-7 victory in Wales with scrum-half Larissa Muldoon returning from the bench to the starting line-up while there was a milestone in the second row as Marie Louise Reilly won her 50th Ireland cap.
Donnybrook had been a successful home for the Irish women and Tom Tierney’s side came into this match with only one defeat in seven matches here, a loss to Wales in 2006.
The importance of this fixture was underlined by the presence of President Michael D Higgins who met the teams before kick-off during a brief respite from the rain and gusting wind. The atrocious conditions made kicking unpredictable and handling a poisoned chalice, with turnovers plentiful in the opening minutes and Ireland fly-half Nora Stapleton had problems clearing her lines, inviting England back into the home 22.
That the visitors failed to capitalise showed they were struggling in the foul weather in equal measure, wing Amy Wilson Hardy dropping the slippery ball from a close-range pass as England threatened in the seventh minute.
Yet the game was being played on English terms, beyond the Irish 10-metre line and it needed a big tackle inside the 22 from Hannah Tyrell on Kay Wilson to prevent what a seemed a certain try in the 13th minute.
It was an ominous sign, though, and despite Emily Scarratt missing a 15th-minute penalty, England were on top a minute later, Wilson Hardy going over in the corner to open the scoring, Scarratt missing the conversion from the right touchline.
Ireland were enjoying set-piece dominance and their control of the second quarter saw them camped on the English line but they were unable to breach it and trailed 5-0 at half-time.
Ireland restarted with the intent they had shown just before the break but it was not until the 47th minute that they had England rattled, turning over the ball on the 10-metre line and then centre Jenny Murphy breaking into the 22 and going into contact from where Ireland won a penalty.
They went for the corner but from the lineout failed to get the breakthrough and were turned over themselves on five metres.
There was some concern when Ireland flanker Claire Molloy was flattened in contact but referee Nievas failed to stop play as Molloy lay prostrate. She was treated by medics and initially allowed to continue before being called ashore for a Head Injury Assessment that should have been called much earlier.
Muldoon had also been sent for an HIA and neither returned to the field. In their absence, England doubled their lead, replacement prop Laura Keates going over in the right corner to briefly quieten the otherwise vociferous home crowd. Scarratt missed the conversion but Ireland were in further trouble when Molloy’s replacement Mairead Coyne was sin-binned for a deliberate knock-on in front of her posts, Scarratt making no mistake from the penalty as England went 13-0 in front just before the hour mark.
Down to 14 women, Ireland were in danger of unravelling and two minutes later England duly struck when they stole the ball in midfield and hooker Amy Cokayne showed an impressive burst of speed to run in unopposed from the Ireland 10-metre line. Scarratt’s conversion took the score to 20-0 and Tierney made changes, replacing Ireland’s props and moving Sene Nauopu to fly-half as Stapleton was withdrawn.
There were instant dividends as hooker Leah Lyons scored a try close to the posts in the 66th minute, Tyrrell kicking the conversion but with Coyne still binned, Scarratt raced to score behind the posts and secure the bonus point. If the outcome was in doubt, England turned a canter into a gallop, replacement wing Lydia Thompson adding a fifth try with seven minutes remaining, Scarratt adding the conversion.
K Flood (M Coyne, 52); H Tyrrell, J Murphy, S Naoupu, A Miller; N Stapleton (N Caughey, 62), L Muldoon (M Healy, 44); L Peat (I van Staden, 62), L Lyons (C O’Connor, 70), A Egan; S Spence, M L Reilly; C Griffin (N Fryday, 70), C Molloy (C Cooney, 51), P Fitzpatrick – captain.
D Waterman; A Wilson Hardy, E Scarratt, A Reed, K Wilson (L Thompson, 70); E Scott (R Burford, h-t, Scott 51-53 - blood), LT Mason (B Blackburn, 67); R Clark (V Cornborough, h-t), A Cokayne, J Lucas (L Keates, h-t); T Taylor, H Millar-Mills; A Matthews (P Cleall, 51-55), M Packer, S Hunter – captain.
Alhambra Nievas (Spain)
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