Irish women open Six Nations account with impressive win

Italy Women 5 Ireland Women 30

Irish women open Six Nations account with impressive win

By Dave Mervyn

Italy Women 5 Ireland Women 30

Stadio Mario Lodigiani, Florence

Tom Tierney's first competitive game in charge of the Ireland Women saw them outscore Italy by five tries to one in a 30-5 Six Nations win in Florence.

Newly-appointed captain Niamh Briggs converted her own try for a 7-0 half-time lead, with the Italians losing their discipline.

Paula Fitzpatrick powered over after the break and Jenny Murphy scoring from her own kick through. Fitzpatrick and fellow back rower Heather O'Brien added further efforts before Maria Magatti's late consolation score.

Given the bitterly cold conditions at Stadio Mario Lodigiani and the opposition provided by an abrasive Italian side, this was an encouraging opening to the Championship from the girls in green.

There would have been nerves aplenty before kick-off with a number of uncapped players in the squad, including lively debutant winger Hannah Tyrrell, and hugely influential figures such as former head coach Philip Doyle and retired duo Fiona Coghlan and Lynne Cantwell now departed.

In their absence, full-back Briggs, picked out as the player of the match, led by example on the pitch, although given her high standards she would have been disappointed with her return from the kicking tee.

After a lively opening quarter and a period of persistent pressure from Tierney's side, Briggs opened the scoring, with her try coming directly from scrum ball. The Waterford woman duly turned it into a seven-pointer.

The remainder of the first half was played at a frantic pace as the durable Italians pressed through full-back Manuela Furlan whose rapier-like running created a half chance. However, Ireland showed plenty of grit and determination in keeping their line intact.

English referee Sarah Cox awarded a string of consecutive penalties to Ireland due to the persistent infringements around the ruck from Italy. The stiff breeze prevented Briggs from taking Ireland into double figures before the interval.

The Italian resistance gave in after just four minutes into the second period when blindside flanker Fitzpatrick powered over the line. Briggs failed to add the extras.

The captain atoned for this miss just minutes later with a superb long range penalty kick. The Italian defence wilted again in the 58th minute as centre Murphy hacked through and touched down to make it 20-0.

Despite her patchy place-kicking, Briggs was a constant threat with ball in hand and she looked as if she had scored on a couple of occasions, only for the try to be disallowed. However, with 15 minutes left, number 8 O'Brien crossed the line from another solid Irish scrum.

Debutant Katie Fitzhenry, who was introduced off the bench, made a slashing break to light up the Irish attack once more. Italy were tiring and their defensive workload took its toll as Fitzpatrick completed her brace with little over five minutes remaining.

The home side boosted their spirits with a try in the final play, replacement Magatti getting over in the corner. But it failed to take the gloss off a satisfying win for Ireland who march on to face the French at 'fortress Ashbourne' next week.

Scorers: Italy: Try: Maria Magatti

Ireland: Tries: Niamh Briggs, Paula Fitzpatrick 2, Jenny Murphy, Heather O'Brien; Con: Niamh Briggs; Pen: Niamh Briggs

ITALY WOMEN: Manuela Furlan (Benetton Treviso); Maria Diletta Veronese (Valsugana Rugby Padova), Sofia Stefan (Rennes), Maria Grazia Cioffi (Rugby Benevento), Michela Sillari (HBS Colorno); Veronica Schiavon (Sitam Riviera del Brenta), Sara Barattin (Rugby Casale); Elisa Cucchiella (Belve NeroVerdi), Lucia Cammarano (SR Monza 1949), Melissa Bettoni (Rennes), Flavia Severin (Benetton Treviso), Alice Trevisan (Sitam Riviera del Brenta), Ilaria Arrighetti (ASR Monza 1949), Elisa Giordano (Valsugana Padova), Silvia Gaudino (ASR Monza) (capt).

Replacements: Awa Coulibaly (Rennes), Irene Campanini (HBS Colorno), Michela Este (Benetton Treviso), Alessia Pantarotto (Sitam Riviera del Brenta), Valentina Ruzza (Valsugana Rugby Padova), Beatrice Rigoni (Valsugana Rugby Padova), Paola Zangirolami (Valsugana Rugby Padova), Maria Magatti (ASR Monza 1949).

IRELAND WOMEN: Niamh Briggs (UL Bohemians/Munster) (capt); Hannah Tyrrell (Old Belvedere/Leinster), Jenny Murphy (Old Belvedere/Leinster), Jackie Shiels (Richmond/Exile), Alison Miller (Portlaoise/Connacht); Nora Stapleton (Old Belvedere/Leinster), Larissa Muldoon (Skewen); Ruth O'Reilly (Galwegians/Connacht), Gillian Bourke (Olympico de Pozuelo), Ailis Egan (Old Belvedere/Leinster), Marie Louise Reilly (Old Belvedere/Leinster), Sophie Spence (Old Belvedere/Leinster), Paula Fitzpatrick (St. Mary's/Leinster), Claire Molloy (Bristol/Connacht), Heather O'Brien (Highfield/Munster).

Replacements used: Fiona Hayes (UL Bohemians/Munster) for O'Reilly, Katie Fitzhenry (Blackrock/Leinster) for Shiels, Orla Fitzsimons (St. Mary's/Leinster) for Reilly (all 69 mins), Sene Naoupu (Galwegians/Connacht) for Miller, Tania Rosser (Blackrock/Leinster) for Muldoon (78), Sarah Mimnagh (Wasps/Exile) for Bourke, Fiona O'Brien (Old Belvedere/Leinster) for Egan, Katie Norris (Blackrock/Leinster) for Fitzpatrick (all 75).

Referee: Sara Cox (England)

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