Exhausted Irish keep battling to bitter end

WOMEN’S RUGBY WORLD CUP:

Exhausted Irish keep battling to bitter end

Philip Doyle’s team were under siege for most of this encounter but showed remarkable resiliency in the face of wave after wave of French physicality.

Going into the final minute the game was on a knife-edge at 20-18 in favour of the hosts who pinched an undeserved fourth try against a spent Ireland side.

A stuttering lineout and a reversing scrum handicapped Ireland throughout and although they managed to cut the power from the majority of French mauls, it was the trundling effort early in the second half that ate up 20 metres in front of the Irish posts allowing Guiglion to score her first try from an overlap.

The score put France 17-15 up after Niamh Briggs and Grace Davitt’s first-half tries had put Ireland in the ascendancy – Briggs would add a penalty on the hour to take her haul to 13 points.

The destructive running of French forwards Assa Koita and Safi N’Diaye stretched the Irish defence all afternoon at Stade Jean Bouin in Paris. Despite the efforts of Jenny Murphy, Sophie Spence and the boot of Briggs to drag Ireland back into scoring positions, a lack of continuity meant Ireland, devoid of a set-piece threat, had little access into the game.

Since the high of beating New Zealand, Ireland’s World Cup campaign has limped to the finish after their semi-final walloping by England and yesterday’s fatigued efforts.

The fact remains, however, that many of this group will be viewed as pioneers for the women’s game in this country.

That does not dismiss those who have worn the green jersey back in the days when the IRFU had little interest in the female code a decade ago (former captain Sarah Jane Belton racked up more than 60 caps in relative obscurity between 2000 and 2007) but to acknowledge the fact that in winning the Grand Slam and defeating New Zealand in this World Cup they have established a profile that few could have predicted.

Rather than toiling away in the shadows women’s rugby in Ireland will now attract more of a spotlight as a challenging period of transition approaches. Soon there will be a vacuum in experience as, firstly, head coach Philip Doyle departs after his second stint in charge of Ireland and just how much currency the IRFU place on the women’s game will only be made clear if they recruit a high-quality appointment.

On top of that captain Fiona Coghlan, evergreen centre Lynne Cantwell and stalwarts such as Gillian Burke, Grace Davitt and Nora Stapleton have won their last caps in a World Cup and, one imagines, will gradually filter into retirement in the coming years.

The flip side to this is that many of the current team came to the game in their late teens, or indeed their early 20s, and the increased exposure of the national team means that more players should take up the game while talent can be identified at a younger age.

However, the union are likely to place their recruitment priorities into Sevens where a professional playing panel is needed in order to make a realistic qualification bid for the 2016 Olympics in Rio.

Yet, it is the amateurs of the 15-a-side game have proved in this tournament that their 2013 Grand Slam was no fluke. The win over the Black Ferns will stick in the mind of even the casual sports fans in the same way that Kevin O’Brien inspired the Irish cricket team to victory over England in the 2011 World Cup.

The lesson there is that while a code may not explode in popularity after a headline-grabbing achievement, such events do invite more sponsorship revenue and which leads to a greater focus on youth infrastructure and improved facilities for those pulling on a green jersey.

Cantwell, Ireland’s most capped player, succinctly described the thrill of representing her country last year, saying: “When you pull on an Irish jersey that the green just kind of soaks into your skin and seeps into your blood.”

Regardless of disappointing finish to their campaign the 32-year-old and her team-mates have, no doubt, encouraged others to take up the sport and in doing so will leave behind an inspiring legacy.

IRELAND: N Briggs; A Baxter, G Davitt, J Murphy, A Miller; N Stapleton (L Muldoon 68), T Rosser; F Coghlan (capt), G Bourke, A Egan (KA Craddock 68); S Spence, ML Reilly; S Fleming (H O’Brien 64), C Molloy, P Fitzpatrick.

FRANCE: J Tremouliere; S Izar (Y Rivoalen 65), E Poublan, M Mayans, E Guiglion; S Agricole (C Le Duff 28), J Troncy; L Arricastre, G Mignot (capt, L Salles 68), C Chobet (E Portaries 56); S Rabier, A Koita; K Djossouvi (C Diallo 50), L Grand (M Andre 76), S N’Diaye.

Referee: S Turnbull (Canada).

England rule the world

By Andrew Baldock

Women’s World Cup final: England 21 Canada 9

Captain Katy Mclean hailed matchwinner Emily Scarratt as “a phenomenal player” after England won the Women’s World Cup with victory over Canada in Paris.

England’s success was secured by 16 points from centre Scarratt, including a superb late solo touchdown, and a try by full-back Danielle Waterman.

It secured a first world title since 1994 and ended a run of three successive World Cup final defeats, all against New Zealand.

“She’s a phenomenal player, world-class, and world-class players do the world-class things. She absolutely delivered for England,” Mclean said.

“That group of girls and staff deserve everything we’ve got today. We’ve worked so hard for this, and there are so many great legends that have gone before us that haven’t won in an England shirt, and that’s for all of them who are here today. This is all about the England rugby family. It’s amazing.”

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