A few weeks ago they were confident of emulating their semi-final appearance achieved at the last World Cup, but seventh-place finish is now the best they can hope for, after yesterday’s fairly comprehensive defeat by Australia at Kingspan Stadium.
The Belfast crowd, around 3,500 in number, were desperate to engage and get behind the girls whose loss to France last Thursday ended thir semi-final hopes.
But there were no chants of ‘Ireland, Ireland’ until the last 10 minutes when the hosts made their traditional strong finish, with tries from Sophie Spence and Paula Fitzpatrick at least putting some respectability on the scoreboard.
Missed tackles, which has haunted them throughout the tournament, was again a massive factor as the physicality of the Wallaroos’ punched serious holes straight up the middle of the pitch all afternoon.
“We were on the back foot and if you miss too many tackles and concede yards after tackles, it’s going to be a very long day and that’s what it was against a physical, direct, Australian team,” admitted head coach Tom Tierney.
“We didn’t execute today.
“From an attack perspective we didn’t have the ball as much as we’d have liked.
“From a defence perspective we gave too many yards after the tackle so whenever there was a collision, target rucks weren’t being set right away, so instead of one person making a tackle it was two or three making the tackle, and that took it out of the girls.
“Obviously conceding points as well... 36 points is a lot to concede and we’re very disappointed by that.
“It just leads to a scoreline where it’s all doom and gloom, that’s the nature of sport.
“It’s not the first time Ireland has done poorly in a World Cup and we make no bones about it, we’ve done poorly.” Throughout the tournament, Ireland have been too tentative and lacking creativity in the first half of all their games.
That was a trait they needed to shake off here, with a good start essential to set the tone for the Belfast leg of this tournament.
Instead it was the Aussies who got it, stand-in captain Sharni Williams catching Ireland short of cover out wide for an easy score in the eighth minute.
To make matters worse, Ireland captain Claire Molloy was forced off after a suspected concussion during the move. Before half-time, Jenny Murphy followed, two huge blows to Ireland.
“Said Tierney: “Both girls were absolutely gone and were removed straight away for their own health by the medical staff”.
Ireland didn’t get to unleash their driving maul in their Pool C decider against the French who refused to engage at the lineout – a tactic that paid off handsomely.
They got it going early doors with Ailis Egan inching over at the fourth attempt after Lindsay Peat had been held up just short.
Nora Stapleton converted, in what was a much better day for the Donegal fly-half.
Her kicking from the hand was noteworthy too, a lovely crossfield kick invited Alison Miller to surge forward and she ran in for try number two after 18 minutes to put the hosts 12-5 up.
Australia responded with two tries in a six-minute spell before half time to lead 19-12 at the interval.
Sarah Riordan finished off a move involving fly-half Ashleigh Hewson and inside centre Sharni Williams before crashing over under the posts.
Tighthead Hilisha Samoa finished from a yard to stretch Australia’s lead out to seven.
Ireland should have regrouped at the break but they failed to regain the initiative.
Australia continued to dictate the exchanges, Millie Boyle’s try and a Hewson penalty leaving Tom Tierney’s side staring at a 29-12 deficit after 58 minutes.
It got worse when Mahalia Murphy peeled off another missed tackle to score their fifth try in the 64th minute.
Ireland managed a good five-minute spell of sustained pressure towards the end.
It finally brought a deserved try, Sophie Spence rolling over after Paula Fitzpatrick had made the hard yards.
There were only six minutes to go, but Ireland’s familiar late charge was starting to ignite the crowd.
Millie Boyle’s sin-binning with a minute to go left Ireland with an opportunity to finish on a positive note, Paula Fitzpatrick crashing over for Ireland’s fourth try. The final opportunity to restore some pride comes on Saturday. For all involved, it can’t come soon enough.
Tyrrell; Galvin, Murphy, Naoupu, Miller; Stapleton, Cronin; Peat, Moloney, Egan; Cooney, O’Reilly; Griffin, Molloy, Fitzpatrick.
Lyons, van Staden, O’Connor, Spence, Caplice, Muldoon, Fitzhenry, McLaughlin
S Treherne; N Marsters, S Riordan, S Williams, M Murphy; A Hewson, K Barker; L Patu, C Campbell, R Clough; A Hewett; M Boyle, C Butler, C Hamilton.
E Robinson, V Tupola, H Ngaha, M Gray, K Brown, F Hake, K Sauvao, T Pomare.
Ian Tempest (England)