Ireland sunk Welsh Triple Crown hopes and put themselves firmly in Women’s Six Nations title contention at St Helen’s, Swansea yesterday.
Prop Ailis Egan and wing Alison Miller scored tries while full-back Niamh Briggs added two conversions and struck two second-half penalties to seal the victory and put Tom Tierney’s team on course for a Triple Crown.
They are now level on points with France at the top of the table, with the French having the better points difference but facing the more difficult final-day assignment away to world champions England.
France’s defeat to Italy had blown the Championship wide open, and both sides knew the winners here would be in contention come the final day. It made for a frenetic start, with the home side initially on top and pressing strongly in the Irish 22. But the visitors soon settled and took control. Desperate Welsh defence repelled a prolonged Irish attack in a fashion not dissimilar to the men’s international in Cardiff, but the dam eventually burst.
A controlled driving maul took Ireland to within sight of the line, and Egan crashed over from close range, with Briggs adding the conversion.
Wales sought a response and dominated the final spell of the opening half after Elinor Snowsill’s clever kick had left Briggs in trouble in the shadow of her own posts.
On several occasions Ireland were camped across their own line for extended periods, but a tigerish defensive effort saw them survive to the break, with Claire Molloy winning one crucial turnover.
It proved a key passage as Ireland stormed out on the restart and extended their advantage through Briggs’ first penalty.
It left Wales chasing the game, and the hosts made a number of unforced errors as they looked to pick up the tempo and make inroads against a solid Irish defence.
The perils of attempting to play from deep caught up with them when they were penalised for going off their feet at a ruck and the reliable boot of Briggs extended Ireland’s lead.
Miller then finished the contest when she seized on a loose ball to run in from halfway and spark Irish celebrations.
“It was a great effort from the girls,” said Tierney. “We made things hard for ourselves at times but we showed great grit and character to beat a very good Welsh side.”
Scorers for Ireland: Tries: Egan, Miller Conversions: Briggs 2 Penalties: Briggs 2
WALES: D Hywel (K Lake 50); L Harries, A Taviner, G Rowland, E Evans; E Snowsill (H Jones 78), A Day (K Bevan 78); J Davies (C Thomas 50), C Phillips (A Lawrence 75), C Edwards (A Evans 58), J Hawkins (R Rowe 75), R Taylor, S Williams (M Clay 78), S Harries, S Powell Hughes.
IRELAND: N Briggs; H Tyrrell (A Doyle 78), J Murphy, J Shiels (S Naoupu 18-28), A Miller; N Stapleton (S Naoupu 66), L Muldoon (T Rosser 53); R O’Reilly (F Hayes 53), G Bourke (S Mimnagh 78) A Egan (F O’Brien 78), S Spence (K Norris 78), ML Reilly, P Fitzpatrick, C Molloy, H O’Brien (O Fitzsimons 36).
Referee: C Hodnett (RFU)