The Ireland Women were well-beaten in their opening Six Nations encounter at Energia Park where a newly-professional England team ran out convincing 51-7 bonus point winners.
4,637 spectators, a record Donnybrook crowd for a standalone Women's fixture, watched Adam Griggs' side enjoy some promising first half spells but tries from Jess Breach (4 minutes) and Sarah McKenna (29) gave England, who have been full-time for the last month, a 13-0 half-time lead.
Two quick-fire tries from Sarah Bern and Lark Davies at the start of the second period widened the margin to 27 points, and a further five-pointer player-of-the-match Katy Daley-Mclean, who finished with 16 points, made it a nightmare third quarter for Ireland. They hit back with a well-earned penalty try from scrum dominance on the hour mark.
Griggs brought on the fit-again Alison Miller and handed debuts to Linda Djougang, Anne-Marie O'Hora and Kathryn Dane, but the Red Roses passed the half-century thanks to closing tries from replacements Zoe Harrison. Emily Scott and Bryony Cleall. After tonight's chastening defeat, Ireland will have to regroup quickly for next Friday's trip to Scotstoun to face Scotland, while England host France in a probably title decider.
Ireland's bright start, which saw the sidestepping Michelle Claffey get within five metres of the English try-line, failed to bring points and England were clinical in response. Off a lineout near halfway they worked it wide to young winger Breach who fended off both Megan Williams and Lauren Delany to run in a classy unconverted score in the right corner.
While Blackrock captain Claffey found another gap with her neat footwork, England were looking more incisive with ball in hand. The Irish forwards proved more than a match for England's pack, twice thwarting their maul efforts with a turnover and then holding up them close to the whitewash. The hosts' scrum was also rock solid with Fiona Reidy edging her battle with Hannah Botterman.
Daley-Mclean's 22nd-minute penalty from straight in front pushed England into an 8-0 lead, and tighthead Bern turned a miscued Irish lineout - an area of concern - into a blistering break from deep. Quick hands released Breach and it took very good scrambling from Delany and Sene Naoupu to deny her a second try. Yet, England's pace and power was proving difficult for Ireland to handle.
With the home defence stretched, Daley-Mclean's expertly-weighted grubber kick was grounded by McKenna just before the ball went dead. Referee Aimee Barrett-Theron awarded the try on advice of her assistant Tim Baker, neglecting to use the TMO despite doubts over a clear grounding. Out-half Daley-Mclean's conversion attempt fell short.
England had a near miss soon after as they exposed Ireland out wide again and second row Aoife McDermott did just enough to force a knock-on from Breach as she reached for the line. As ever, Claire Molloy was standing tall, picking up a couple of brilliant penalty wins at the breakdown, and Leah Lyons frustratingly lacked support after intercepting a pass and charging towards the English 22.
Ireland gave away possession cheaply in their own 22 and leaked a soft try within a minute of the restart, with Bern popping up on Poppy Cleall's shoulder to crash over beside the posts. Daley-Mclean converted and also crisply added the extras to Davies' 45th-minute maul effort as England went up through the gears.
Now starved of possession and territory, Ireland continued to dig deep with McDermott stealing a lineout and Juliet Short leading an important counter ruck. However, England's strength in depth was really showing and Rowena Burnfield popped the ball out of a tackle for Daley-Mclean to weave her way over for a deserved close-range try, which she converted herself.
Ireland skipper Ciara Griffin rallied her troops, the pack taking the game to England again via a series of penalties and lineout opportunities with Molloy tidying up a couple of throws. Anna Caplice, in particular, made a big physical impact off the bench with Lyons' move to tighthead seeing Ireland dominate two five-metre scrums with the collapse resulting in the penalty try.
Both coaches used their replacements wisely, with an eye on next week's second round ties, and the fresh-legged Harrison was up in support to scamper over for England's sixth try with a quarter-of-an-hour remaining. There was a big roar to welcome back experienced winger Miller from her long-term ankle injury and she raised the decibel level again with a cracking tackle on Amy Cokayne.
However, England's class and experience saw them tally up eight tries in the end, with Tatyana Heard drawing in Emma Hooban to release Scott to score near the left corner, and Cleall burrowed in under the posts in the final minute despite Caplice going close to winning a relieving penalty. A tough night at the office for the girls in green but they certainly have a scrum to build on and develop their game in the coming weeks.
Ireland Women: Try: Penalty try; Con: Pen try con
England Women: Tries: Jess Breach, Sarah McKenna, Sarah Bern, Lark Davies, Katy Daley-Mclean, Zoe Harrison, Emily Scott, Bryony Cleall; Cons: Katy Daley-Mclean 4; Pen: Katy Daley-Mclean
HT: Ireland Women 0 England Women 13
TIME LINE: 4 minutes - England try: Jess Breach - 0-5; conversion: missed by Katy Daley-Mclean - 0-5; 22 mins - England penalty: Katy Daley-Mclean - 0-8; 29 mins - England try: Sarah McKenna - 0-13; conversion: missed by Katy Daley-Mclean - 0-13; Half-time - Ireland 0 England 13; 41 mins - England try: Sarah Bern - 0-18; conversion: Katy Daley-Mclean - 0-20; 45 mins - England try: Lark Davies - 0-25; conversion: Katy Daley-Mclean - 0-27; 52 mins - England try: Katy Daley-Mclean - 0-32; conversion: Katy Daley-Mclean - 0-34; 60 mins - Ireland try: Penalty try & conversion - 7-34; 65 mins - England try: Zoe Harrison - 7-39; conversion: missed by Katy Daley-Mclean - 7-39; 75 mins - England try: Emily Scott - 7-44; conversion: missed by Katy Daley-Mclean - 7-44; 79 mins - England try: Bryony Cleall - 7-49; conversion: Katy Daley-Mclean - 7-51; Full-time - Ireland 7 England 51
IRELAND WOMEN: Lauren Delany (Firwood Waterloo Ladies/IQ Rugby); Eimear Considine (UL Bohemians/Munster), Sene Naoupu (Old Belvedere/Leinster), Michelle Claffey (Blackrock/Leinster), Megan Williams (Old Belvedere/Leinster); Nicole Fowley (Galwegians/Connacht), Ailsa Hughes (Railway Union/Leinster); Laura Feely (Galwegians/Connacht), Leah Lyons (Harlequins), Fiona Reidy (UL Bohemians/Munster), Aoife McDermott (Railway Union/Leinster), Nichola Fryday (Galwegians/Connacht), Juliet Short (Railway Union/Leinster), Claire Molloy (Wasps), Ciara Griffin (UL Bohemians/Munster) (capt).
Replacements: Emma Hooban (St. Mary's/Leinster), Linda Djougang (Old Belvedere/Leinster), Anne-Marie O'Hora (Galwegians/Connacht), Anna Caplice (Richmond), Claire McLaughlin (Old Belvedere/Ulster), Kathryn Dane (Old Belvedere/Ulster), Ellen Murphy (Old Belvedere/Leinster), Alison Miller (Old Belvedere/Connacht).
ENGLAND WOMEN: Sarah McKenna (Saracens); Jess Breach (Harlequins), Emily Scarratt (Loughborough Lightning), Tatyana Heard (Gloucester-Hartpury), Kelly Smith (Gloucester-Hartpury); Katy Daley-Mclean (Loughborough Lightning), Leanne Riley (Harlequins); Hannah Botterman (Saracens), Lark Davies (Worcester Valkyries), Sarah Bern (Bristol Bears), Catherine O'Donnell (Loughborough Lightning), Poppy Cleall (Saracens), Sarah Beckett (Firwood Waterloo Ladies), Marlie Packer (Saracens), Sarah Hunter (Loughborough Lightning) (capt).
Replacements: Amy Cokayne (Wasps), Bryony Cleall (Saracens), Shaunagh Brown (Harlequins), Rosie Galligan (Saracens), Rowena Burnfield (Richmond), Natasha Hunt (Gloucester-Hartpury), Zoe Harrison (Saracens), Emily Scott (Harlequins).
Referee: Aimee Barrett-Theron (South Africa)