Ireland 21 Wales 3: Ireland coach Tom Tierney had plenty of reason to smile at Donnybrook on Saturday afternoon.
A 21-3 victory over Wales in this Women’s Six Nations opener was cause for celebration, but moreso given the changed selection canvas due to retirements and the departure of some stars to concentrate on the sevens code.
Tierney admitted: “It was a great win to start the championship with a lot of new faces, some winning their first cap, some their second. They all gelled with the experienced girls and it all leads into a good training week ahead of the French game.”
Jenny Murphy, Hannah Tyrrell, and Alison Miller who shone during the victorious 2015 campaign were amongst those unavailable to Tierney for this campaign, and their absence meant that a relatively inexperience backline struggled to find their feet in the opening minutes, after out-half Robyn Wilkins opening the scoring for the visitors with a penalty.
However, after the first quarter, the combination between out half Nikki Caughey, earning her fourth Ireland cap, and inside centre Sene Naoupu began to reap rewards. New Zealand-born Naoupu scored Ireland’s opening try, making a break off the back of some good work from Caughey in the 23rd minute.
The talented centre qualifies to play for Ireland under residency rules, after she moved to Galway in 2011 with husband George, the Connacht back row.
“The enthusiasm, the skill level, the defensive attributes, she is a quality player,” said Tierney.
“We are playing her now at 12, in her best position. She is our second playmaker and we saw glimpses of that. Her try was very impressive but so too was her work in setting up plays. She is only going to get better and better.”
The coach also praised Caughey along with her half- back partner Larissa Muldoon: “They were very impressive. Nikki has played two 15s rugby matches in two years. She is re-learning the position and to have someone like Larissa there, who is an experienced player at this stage, is great. Like everything there will be a couple of positional areas to work on.”
Ireland’s second try came from 2015 World Rugby Women’s Player of the Year nominee, Sophie Spence, after 34 minutes and the hosts enjoyed a 15-3 lead at the break, with Briggs kicking a penalty and a conversion.
As the rain began to fall over Dublin 4, the second half proved to be the time for the forwards to shine, with two penalties from Briggs completing the scoring.
Next up for Ireland is a difficult assignment against France in Perpignan on Saturday evening.
“France would be very experienced up front. That is going to be a battle in itself but we do need to balance the books in how we actually play the game — backs and forwards. It can’t be a top heavy forwards performance next week. They’ll have to do their job but the backs will have to help them out, we will have to move those big French forwards around. I think this game will be worth its weight in gold for that. It is going to be a tough one but hopefully the learning we take out of this will give us a chance to be competitive.”
N Briggs — captain; E O’Byrne White, A Donnelly (J Shiels, 66), S Naoupu, M Coyne; N Caughey (N Stapleton, 58), L Muldoon (M Healy, 74); A Egan (F Reidy 77), Z Grattage (C Moloney, 50), R O’Reilly (L Peat, 70), S Spence, ML Reilly (C Cooney, 66), P Fitzpatrick, C Molloy, H O’Brien (C Griffin, 58).
A Taviner, B Dainton (D Hywel 70), K Lake (G Rowland 32) H Jones (E Snowsill 52) Elen Evans; R Wilkins, K Bevan; M York, C Philips, A Evans (K Edwards 60), 4. R Rowe, S Harries, R Taylor — captain, S Powell-Hughes, S Williams (A Butchers 44).
Leah Berard (USA).
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