By Dave Mervyn
Ireland Women 12 - Scotland Women 15: Chloe Rollie's brilliant 95-metre breakaway try proved the difference at Donnybrook as Scotland recorded their first Women's Six Nations win over Ireland since 2006.
The Scots had won the sides' first 14 meetings between 1993 and 2006, but today's result marked the end of Ireland's 12-match winning streak in the fixture, with versatile forward Jade Konkel starring as the player-of-the-match.
Ireland’s performance was quite a step backwards from their 35-12 bonus point victory over Wales, as a catalogue of basic errors blighted their play and too many of their key players fluffed their lines. It brought back bad memories of their World Cup campaign last year.
This Celtic clash was a real arm-wrestle throughout, with Adam Griggs’ home side starved of territory in the first half. Centre Helen Nelson’s lone penalty had Scotland leading 3-0 at half-time, and she added a well-taken unconverted try in the 42nd minute.
Ireland’s dominant scrum saw them hit back with a penalty try and Scottish loosehead Megan Kennedy was soon dispatched to the sin-bin after a series of penalties. Crucially, the hosts could not force a second try from the set piece, with Lindsay Peat’s protests that she had grounded the ball in vain.
Indeed, during Kennedy’s spell on the sidelines, pacy full-back Rollie picked off an intercept deep in her 22, outpaced the covering Kim Flood and sped away to score despite a last-ditch tackle from Hannah Tyrrell.
Lana Skeldon converted the 61st minute try to push the gap out to 15-7. Despite a Paula Fitzpatrick score in response, Flood blundered when missing the straightforward conversion and Ireland were unable to get back into scoring range over the concluding 11 minutes.
In a lively opening to the game, which was watched by an attendance of 2,063, Ireland ran from deep as they released Megan Williams up the right wing via some crisp handling from both backs and forwards.
A crooked lineout throw by hooker Skeldon blew an early try-scoring opportunity for the Scots, five metres out, but Aoife McDermott came in at the side of a seventh-minute ruck, allowing Nelson to open the scoring from straight in front of the posts.
Scotland had the better of the first quarter, aided by their accuracy at the breakdown and some evasive running from the likes of Rollie and Hannah Smith, although Skeldon misfired a second time at an advanced lineout.
Ireland’s discipline was letting them down as they leaked six penalties up to the 21-minute mark. Fortunately, Nelson’s second penalty attempt was pushed to the right of the posts.
Referee Ian Tempest’s whistle made for a stop-start contest, with some scrappy passages of play, yet Claire Molloy and Irish captain Ciara Griffin were growing in influence at the breakdown, winning a couple of penalty decisions near halfway.
Katie Fitzhenry had a near-interception and although Scotland still had most of the ball, there were some bright moments with a McDermott-led choke tackle and Ireland’s powerful scrum eventually gaining a penalty in the 33rd minute.
Winger Williams was central to an encouraging finish to the first half from the girls in green. She wrestled for possession and raised the decibel level with a determined kick chase. However, there were some uncharacteristic handling errors from Sene Naoupu and Niamh Briggs, the latter one at the end of a promising spell sparked by number 8 Fitzpatrick’s rip in the tackle.
Scotland started the second period with a bang, forcing a turnover and with replacement scrum half Jenny Maxwell providing a snappy service, they worked some space on the left for Nelson to crash over. She missed the conversion at 8-0.
Ireland responded through their forwards, marching Scotland back in a penalty-winning maul. With the home crowd growing louder, the pack went for the jugular but flanker Griffin, having broken from a maul, was held up by a couple of defenders.
From the resulting five-metre scrum, Ireland shunted the Scots backwards and referee Tempest rewarded them with a 49th-minute penalty try.
The hard work put in with new scrum coach Mike Ross is clearly paying off as Ireland continued to go the direct route through their forwards, including Cliodhna Moloney who made carry after carry. Still, Scotland remained dangerous on the counter with Naoupu reacting smartly to catch Liz Musgrove with a vital tackle.
It was Scotland’s turn to leak penalties, a Fitzpatrick break getting Ireland back into a decent position before prop Peat was denied her try, with the referee ruling that she was ‘initially held up’.
Griffin was also thwarted from the resulting scrum, and while Leah Lyons’ scrummaging drew a yellow card against Kennedy, Konkel’s move from number 8 to loosehead steadied the visitors’ scrum and kept Ireland out.
When the hosts went wide, Flood’s pass was slightly behind Tyrrell and Scotland were able to pinch a turnover. It was not long before Ireland were knocking on the door again, Briggs knocking on but her forwards winning a scrum against the head.
Summing up a hugely frustrating afternoon for her side, skipper Griffin’s attempts to move the ball to Naoupu resulted in a loose pass which Rollie gobbled up and her impressive pace took her away from Flood and saw her outlast the chasing Tyrrell.
At 15-7 down, the mistakes kept coming from Ireland and even openside Molloy, who excelled in the two home wins over Italy and Wales, was guilty of knocking on after a Griffin break.
Their persistence paid off when Fitzpatrick barged over to the right of the posts, with Ashleigh Baxter and Nicole Cronin both making an impact off the bench. Flood miscued the conversion, though, and Scotland had a three-point lead to hold onto.
Even better still for the visiting support, Shade Munro’s charges threatened to kill off Ireland’s challenge with captain Lisa Martin kicking cleverly for territory and then almost converting an overlap for a try - replacement Louise Galvin got her hand in the way of the pass.
In a tense conclusion, Ireland’s high error count continued to play into Scotland’s hands. Eager scrum half Cronin knocked on at a scrum and then gave away a needless penalty a few phases later. The Scots deservedly prevailed in the end, disrupting a last-minute Irish lineout and kicking the ball dead to spark joyous celebrations.
Full time in Donnybrook and it’s @Scotlandteam who claim the victory, winning 15-12.March 11, 2018
TIME LINE: 7 minutes - Scotland penalty: Helen Nelson - 0-3; 21 mins - Scotland penalty: missed by Helen Nelson - 0-3; Half-time - Ireland 0 Scotland 3; 42 mins - Scotland try: Helen Nelson - 0-8; 49 mins - Ireland try: Penalty try & con - 7-8; 57 mins - Scotland yellow card: Megan Kennedy; 61 mins - Scotland try: Chloe Rollie - 7-13; conversion: Lana Skeldon - 7-15; 68 mins - Ireland try: Paula Fitzpatrick - 12-15; conversion: missed by Kim Flood - 12-15; Full-time - Ireland 12 Scotland 15
IRELAND WOMEN: Kim Flood (Railway Union/Leinster); Megan Williams (Old Belvedere/Leinster), Katie Fitzhenry (Blackrock/Leinster), Sene Naoupu (Old Belvedere/Leinster), Hannah Tyrrell (Old Belvedere/Leinster); Niamh Briggs (UL Bohemians/Munster), Ailsa Hughes (Railway Union/Leinster); Lindsay Peat (Railway Union/Leinster), Cliodhna Moloney (Railway Union/Leinster), Leah Lyons (Highfield/Munster), Aoife McDermott (Railway Union/Leinster), Orla Fitzsimons (St. Mary's/Leinster), Ciara Griffin (UL Bohemians/Munster) (capt), Claire Molloy (Bristol), Paula Fitzpatrick (St. Mary's/Leinster).
Replacements used: Ashleigh Baxter (Cooke/Ulster) for Fitzsimons (44 mins), Louise Galvin (UL Bohemians/Munster) for Williams (60), Fiona Reidy (UL Bohemians/Munster) for Lyons (63), Nicole Cronin (UL Bohemians/Munster) for Hughes (65), Michelle Claffey (Blackrock/Leinster) for Briggs (67), Laura Feely (Galwegians/Connacht) for Peat (73). Not used: Ciara O’Connor (Galwegians/Connacht), Edel McMahon (Galwegians/Connacht).
SCOTLAND WOMEN: Chloe Rollie (Lille Metropole Rugby Club Villeneuvois); Liz Musgrove (Edinburgh University), Lisa Thomson (Lille Metropole Rugby Club Villeneuvois), Helen Nelson (Murrayfield Wanderers), Hannah Smith (Hillhead/Jordanhill); Lisa Martin (DMP Sharks) (capt), Sarah Law (Edinburgh University/Murrayfield Wanderers); Siobhan McMillan (Hillhead/Jordanhill), Lana Skeldon (Watsonians), Megan Kennedy (Stirling County), Emma Wassell (Murrayfield Wanderers), Deborah McCormack (Harlequins), Sarah Bonar (Loughborough Lightning), Rachel Malcolm (Loughborough Lightning), Jade Konkel (Lille Metropole Rugby Club Villeneuvois).
Replacements used: Louise McMillan (Hillhead/Jordanhill) for Bonar, Jenny Maxwell (Loughborough Lightning) for Law (both half-time), Lindsey Smith (Hillhead/Jordanhill) for S McMillan (52 mins), Jodie Rettie (Thurrock) for Kennedy (67), Lauren Harris (Edinburgh University) for Nelson (69), Siobhan Cattigan (Stirling County/Stirling University) for Malcolm (73). Not used: Katie Dougan (Edinburgh University/RHC Cougars), Rhona Lloyd (Edinburgh University).
Referee: Ian Tempest (England)