The Ireland Women's worst Six Nations finish since 2006 was confirmed by a poor 24-5 defeat to a young Wales side who were clinical with their scoring opportunities as they concluded the Championship on a real high at Cardiff Arms Park.
Ireland ended up fifth in the final table, with an error-strewn display in the Welsh capital resulting in their first Six Nations loss to Wales since 2011. It was a complete turnaround from last year's 35-12 victory in Donnybrook, the only real positives being Beibhinn Parsons' early try on her first international start and fellow teenager Enya Breen's ability to get over the gain-line.
The 17-year-old Parsons' 15th-minute try promised much but a slew of further chances were missed by the visitors, as Wales, facing into the wind, levelled through Jess Kavanagh and then bounced back from Siwan Lillicrap's sin-binning to lead 12-5 at half-time thanks to captain Carys Phillips' 36th-minute maul try.
Led by player-of-the-match Alisha Butchers, the well-drilled Welsh pack grew in influence, continuing to force errors from the Irish lineout and scrum which missed injured lock Nichola Fryday. Despite having the lion's share of second half possession, Ireland's scrum issues gave Wales the platform to set up flanker Bethan Lewis' 68th-minute score and the bonus point was claimed by jet-heeled winger Jasmine Joyce from a turnover, three minutes from time.
Hooker Deirbhile Nic a Bhaird's break over halfway was reward for Ireland's early adventure on the 3G pitch, with Eimear Considine and Lauren Delany's combination on the right wing drawing them right into scoring range. Frustratingly, their lineout and scrum let them down, Wales digging in to win a clearing penalty from the latter after the Sene Naoupu-supported Parsons was held up out wide.
The Welsh continued to soak up pressure until Ballinasloe talent Parsons finished smartly in the left corner on the quarter hour mark. It came from another surging break by Nic a Bhaird, good ball retention releasing Nicole Fowley on a half-break and a neat line of passes from Kathryn Dane, Aoife McDermott and Delany sent Parsons powering over in the left corner.
After Fowley's difficult conversion attempt was foiled by the wind, Wales wasted little time in responding as very good hands from their forwards exploited some space on the left where Kavanagh's in-and-out run took her away from the covering Delany and all the way to the try-line. Five points apiece is how it stayed as Ireland failed to score from a gilt-edged opportunity.
Nic a Bhaird's quick tap proved the wrong decision with the penalty straight in front of the posts, the pacy attack breaking down with Claire Molloy and Naoupu both ignoring overlaps out wide. Wales' indiscipline invited Ireland forward again, the hosts losing a key forward in number 8 Lillicrap to the sin-bin for a 26th-minute high tackle on Claire McLaughlin.
Ireland had lineout issues to sort out with three throws lost, while a truck-and-trailer penalty against Lindsay Peat took the heat off the Welsh defence. The visitors' pack also allowed the seven-woman Welsh scrum to eke out a penalty before Lillicrap's return. She made an immediate impact, helping the subsequent maul to drive Phillips over and young centre Lleucu George neatly converted with a low kick.
Ireland began the second half on the front foot, profiting from a McDermott lineout steal, but Wales succeeded in slowing up the rucks despite promising runs from Peat, replacement Anna Caplice and captain Ciara Griffin. A Dane knock-on and a dominant Welsh scrum relieved the pressure on the hosts, while replacement Ellen Murphy badly miscued her first attempted kick to touch from a penalty.
The girls in green continued to dominate possession as the rain came down, although they were guilty of attacking in ones and twos and getting isolated. 19-year-old centre Breen got over the gain-line on a number of occasions but lacked support, and Wales were able to contain some predictable attacks with the Irish backs often too deep in the line and working off slow ball.
Wales' superior scrum was the launchpad for the forwards to carry up close before Dragons youngster Lewis reached over from close range. George added the extras to open up a 12-point gap. Ireland's endeavour could not be questioned, but again they failed to capitalise on a clever snipe over halfway from replacement scrum half Nicole Cronin who did her best to speed up the service.
In the end, another Irish unforced error led to Wales sewing up the result. Peat's attempted offload from the ground led to a turnover and Wales worked the ball wide for Sevens speedster Joyce to tear out of her own half, evade Parsons and dot down in the right corner. The conversion was not needed, Ireland were unable to respond and with the team now in a more difficult situation in terms of qualifying for the 2021 World Cup, the pressure will grow on Adam Griggs and his fellow coaches.
Scorers: Wales Women: Tries: Jess Kavanagh, Carys Phillips, Bethan Lewis, Jasmine Joyce; Cons: Lleucu George 2
Ireland Women: Try: Beibhinn Parsons
TIME LINE: 13 minutes - Ireland try: Beibhinn Parsons - 0-5; conversion: missed by Nicole Fowley - 0-5; 17 mins - Wales try: Jess Kavanagh - 5-5; conversion: missed by Lleucu George - 5-5; 26 mins - Wales yellow card: Siwan Lillicrap; 36 mins - Wales try: Carys Phillips - 10-5; conversion: Lleucu George - 12-5; Half-time - Wales 12 Ireland 5; 68 mins - Wales try: Bethan Lewis - 17-5; conversion: Lleucu George - 19-5; 77 mins - Wales try: Jasmine Joyce - 24-5; conversion: missed by Lleucu George - 24-5; Full-time - Wales 24 Ireland 5
WALES WOMEN: Lauren Smyth (Ospreys); Jasmine Joyce (Scarlets), Hannah Jones (Scarlets), Lleucu George (Scarlets), Jess Kavanagh (RGC); Elinor Snowsill (Bristol Bears), Keira Bevan (Ospreys); Caryl Thomas (Dragons), Carys Phillips (Ospreys) (capt), Amy Evans (Ospreys), Gwen Crabb (Ospreys), Mel Clay (Ospreys), Alisha Butchers (Scarlets), Bethan Lewis (Dragons), Siwan Lillicrap (Ospreys).
Replacements used: Ffion Lewis (Scarlets) for Bevan, Lisa Neumann (RGC) for Kavanagh (both 73 mins), Robyn Wilkins (Blues) for Smyth, Alex Callender (Scarlets) for Butchers, Manon Johnes (Cardiff Blues) for Lewis (all 74), Kelsey Jones (Ospreys) for Phillips, Cara Hope (Ospreys) for Thomas, Cerys Hale (Dragons) for Evans (all 77).
IRELAND WOMEN: Lauren Delany (Firwood Waterloo Ladies/IQ Rugby); Eimear Considine (UL Bohemians/Munster), Enya Breen (UL Bohemians/Munster), Sene Naoupu (Old Belvedere/Leinster), Beibhinn Parsons (Ballinasloe/Connacht); Nicole Fowley (Galwegians/Connacht), Kathryn Dane (Old Belvedere/Ulster); Lindsay Peat (Railway Union/Leinster), Deirbhile Nic a Bhaird (UL Bohemians/Munster), Fiona Reidy (UL Bohemians/Munster), Aoife McDermott (Railway Union/Leinster), Nichola Fryday (Galwegians/Connacht), Ciara Griffin (UL Bohemians/Munster) (capt), Claire Molloy (Wasps), Claire McLaughlin (Old Belvedere/Ulster).
Replacements used: Anna Caplice (Richmond) for Fryday (20 mins), Ellen Murphy (Old Belvedere/Leinster) for Fowley, Laura Feely (Galwegians/Connacht) for Reidy (both 50), Edel McMahon (Galwegians/Connacht) for McLaughlin (54-65, blood sub), Nicole Cronin (UL Bohemians/Munster) for Dane (58), McMahon for McLaughlin, Emma Hooban (St. Mary's/Leinster) for Nic a Bhaird (both 70), Linda Djougang (Old Belvedere/Leinster) for Peat (77). Not used: Laura Sheehan (UL Bohemians/Munster).
Referee: Hollie Davidson (Scotland)