In front of a 15,000-strong crowd, Doyle’s side may have lost the battle and their hopes of retaining the Grand Slam, but they’ve not yet lost the war.
The seven-point defeat ended Ireland’s 10-game run in the Six Nations series, but with Italy next on March 8 at the Aviva, the championship is still all to play for with four teams chasing the title.
“The girls are sore mentally and annoyed with certain aspects of how we played in attack, but there was a lot of positives as well as negatives,” said Doyle.
“We didn’t play enough territorial rugby, and they just kept running back at us, and the English played as we expected them too. But we did well to deny them any scores from set plays or attack us on the wings.”
The hosts started the brighter, and their pressure was rewarded after eight minutes when Sarah Hunter went over from close range following a well-drilled scrum, with Katy McLean converting.
Ireland were finding it difficult to penetrate the England defence, with Gary Street having made seven changes to the side that beat Scotland, with huge improvements in the breakdown.
However the impressive Niamh Briggs got Ireland on the scoreboard with a penalty on 25 minutes, shifting the momentum to the visitors, and their increased workrate was rewarded with a try from scrum-half Larissa Muldoon, with Briggs adding the conversion (10-7). But, despite Ireland’s superb defensive work, the 15-time Triple Crown champions scored again just before the half-time whistle, Emily Scarratt offloading for Kay Wilson to go over in the left corner (12-10).
“That was a killer blow,” Doyle admitted.
Ten minutes after the restart Ireland lost Niamh Briggs and Jenny Murphy to shoulder injuries. It was a blow that the visitors couldn’t recover from. “To lose your too big strike runners in the same minute was massive, but hopefully they’ll be okay for the next game in a fortnight. To be fair to all the girls that came in, they did an absolutely fantastic job. We soaked up a lot of pressure and they were outstanding, especially at the end when we were down to 13 players with seven minutes remaining, and it was a very brave effort,” said Doyle.
On the hour-mark, Wasps flanker Marlie Packer came off the bench to further England’s lead with their third try (17-10), with captain McClean failing to convert.
Ireland were then gifted a chance to get back into the contest when England second row Joanne McGilchrist was sin-binned for holding onto the ball, however any chance of a comeback was ruled out when both Lynne Cantwell and Heather O’Brien were sin-binned in the final minutes. Canadian referee Sherry Trumbull made a number of dubious calls on the night, with both side aggrieved by her understanding of the breakdown.
“Both sides felt she was a huge factor in the game. Her understanding of the breakdown confused the girls, and the English players at that, and our girls lost their confidence in that area then, which we had been targeting. But, I still think we can win the championship, we just have to do it the hard way now,” Doyle added.
Ireland play Italy next at the Aviva on March 8 following the men’s game, with kick-off at approximately 5.30pm. Tickets are on sale at ticketmaster.ie.
Scorers for Ireland: Tries: Muldoon (30) ; conversions: Briggs (31) ; penalties: Briggs (24) . Yellow cards: L Cantwell (71) and H O’Brien (78) .
Scorers for England: Tries: Hunter (7) , Wilson (39) , Packer (60) ; conversions: McClean (8) . Yellow cards: J McGilchrist (61).
IRELAND: N Briggs (UL Bohemians/Munster), A Baxter (Belfast Harlequins/Ulster), L Cantwell (Richmond/Exile), J Murphy (Old Belvedere/Leinster), A Miller (Portlaoise RFC/UCC/Leinster), N Stapleton (Old Belvedere/Leinster), L Muldoon (Bristol/Exile); F Coghlan (UL Bohemians/Leinster) C, G Bourke (UL Bohemians/Munster), A Egan (Old Belvedere /Leinster),S Spence (Old Belvedere, Leinster), ML Reilly (Old Belvedere/Leinster), S Felming (Tralee/Munster),C Molloy (Bristol, Connacht), H O’Brien (Highfield/Munster).
Replacements: J Shiels for Briggs (50; inj); G Davitt for J Murphy (51; inj); L Guest for S Spence (57) ; H Casey for A Baxter (58); SL Kennedy for A Egan (59) ; F Hayes for G Bourke (73) ; A Davis for L Muldoon and KA Craddock for F Coghlan (74) .
ENGLAND: E Scarratt (Lichfield), K Merchant (Worcester), A Reed (Bristol), R Burford (Thurrock), K Wilson (Bristol), K Mclean (Darlington Mowden Park Sharks) C, N Hunt (Lichfield), R Clark (Worcester), E Croker (Richmond), S Hemming (Bristol), R Essex (Richmond), J McGilchrist (Wasps), H Gallagher (Saracens), M Alphonsi (Saracens), S Hunter (Lichfield).
Replacements: 16 Victoria Fleetwood (Lichfield),
Replacements: Packer for Gallagher (46) , Fleetwood for Croker (51), Taylor for Essex (51) , Mas for Hunt (56) , Acheson for Hemming (58) , Keates for Clark (58) , Thompson for Wilson (58) , Large for Burford (71) .
Referee: Sherry Trumbull (Canada).