Ireland Women are looking forward to a big year of rugby after they qualified as a core team for the 2015/16 World Rugby Women’s Sevens Series.
It has been a summer of real progress for the Ireland Women under the guidance of head coach Anthony Eddy, culminating in their 26-14 Cup semi-final win over South Africa at the Women’s Sevens Dublin tournament today – a result that booked their World Series spot. Despite falling at the final hurdle to fellow WSWS qualifiers Japan, who triumphed 13-12 at UCD thanks to a last-gasp penalty, Ireland can look back on a momentum-building campaign.
They won Plate titles at both of the European Grand Prix Series events in Kazan and Malemort, finished as runners-up in Lisbon as they qualified for next June’s global Olympic Repechage tournament and thanks to their efforts in Dublin, are now back at the top table of international Women’s Sevens for only the second time.
Ireland previously competed on the World Series circuit in 2013/14, and playing the likes of defending champions New Zealand, Canada, Australia, England, USA, France, Russia, Fiji and Spain and Japan on a regular basis this coming season will be ideal preparation for that Olympic Repechage.
Speaking about Ireland’s World Series qualification, captain Lucy Mulhall commented: “It is everything that we’ve ever wanted, last year was a very difficult year being off the World Series and we set sights on August and this tournament in qualifying.
“I think playing against the top teams is the best way that you can learn and you learn so much quicker than you could ever learn on the training fields. It’s going to be a big year of rugby for us and we’re very excited.”
She added: “Japan are a serious team and I’m sure we’ll have plenty more battles with them over the next year. We’ll build on this and compete hard in the World Series. It was so nice to play at home with a home crowd, thanks to all the fans for coming out and supporting us.”
Mulhall and her team-mates won four of their six games over the weekend at the UCD Bowl, most importantly reversing their 17-5 pool defeat to South Africa yesterday. They began today’s play-offs with a well-judged 27-5 quarter-final success against China, with their three-try second half haul including a brace from the assured Claire Keohane.
Next up was the rematch with the Springbok Women and a strong start, with improved rucking and counter-rucking, gave Ireland the platform for a memorable 26-14 victory. They recaptured some of their best attacking form as Katie Fitzhenry, Mulhall and Alison Miller all touched down before the break.
After South Africa reduced the arrears to just five points, Mulhall showed her class with a terrific try from her own chip over the top which crowned one of Ireland’s best performances of the summer.
In the 10-minute-a-side Cup final, the exertions of the two-day tournament caught up with Ireland in the closing stages as Japan, already with five wins in the bag, edged them out in a nail-biting climax. Tries in each half from ace finisher Amee-Leigh Crowe had Ireland 12 points to the good, but their big defensive workload took its toll as Japan put boot to ball and those kicks paid dividends with back-to-back five-pointers from Yoko Suzuki and Chiharu Nakamura.
There was still enough time for the well-drilled Japanese to push for a winning score. Ashleigh Baxter was unfortunately yellow carded for a high tackle in the final seconds and lining up a central penalty in the Irish 22, Yume Okuroda held her nerve to drop-kick her side to the Dublin crown.
The disappointment was obvious for the girls in green, but they can be very proud of what they achieved in booking their World Series berth. Miller accumulated eight tries over the two days in Belfield, while Crowe, Jenny Murphy and Mulhall (4 tries each) were also regular scorers.
IRELAND WOMEN’S SEVENS SQUAD (Women’s Sevens Dublin – UCD Bowl, Saturday 22nd – Sunday 23rd August):
Audrey O’Flynn (TID)
Jenny Murphy (Old Belvedere)
Stacey Flood (Railway Union)
Hannah Tyrrell (Old Belvedere)
Amee-Leigh Crowe (Clanwilliam)
Ashleigh Baxter (Belfast Harlequins)
Katie Fitzhenry (Blackrock)
Claire Keohane (UL Bohemians)
Lucy Mulhall (Rathdrum) (capt)
Claire Molloy (Bristol)
Louise Galvin (UL Bohemians)
Alison Miller (Portlaoise)
IRELAND WOMEN’S POOL RESULTS:
Ireland 64 Mexico 0
Scorers: Ireland: Tries: Amee-Leigh Crowe 2, Katie Fitzhenry, Jenny Murphy 2, Louise Galvin, Lucy Mulhall, Audrey O’Flynn, Alison Miller, Hannah Tyrrell; Cons: Lucy Mulhall 7
Ireland 50 Hong Kong 0
Scorers: Ireland: Tries: Alison Miller 4, Lucy Mulhall, Jenny Murphy, Claire Molloy, Hannah Tyrrell; Cons: Lucy Mulhall 5
South Africa 17 Ireland 5
Scorers: Ireland: Try: Katie Fitzhenry
Ireland 27 China 5
Scorers: Ireland: Tries: Alison Miller 2, Claire Keohane 2, Jenny Murphy; Con: Lucy Mulhall
Ireland set up a rematch with South Africa at the semi-final stage with a 22-point defeat of China. Anthony Eddy’s charges closed out the win with three second half tries, including two from the impressive Claire Keohane.
Two minutes in, Alison Miller muscled her way over in the right corner after some good movement and passing out to both wings. Lucy Mulhall and Keohane provided good direction with ball in hand.
From scrum ball on the Chinese 22, Miller was then fed again and she produced the same result, fending off Shichao Sun’s attempted tackle to crash over the whitewash. Jenny Murphy missed the two difficult conversions from wide out.
China replied in the closing stages of the first half, working an overlap on the left for Jiaxin Zhou to run clean through from her own half. They also threatened from a late kick through but Louise Galvin got back to avert the danger as Ireland maintained their 10-5 lead.
Into the second period, a lovely move from a penalty involving Galvin and Mulhall saw the ball switched back to the left where the onrushing Keohane broke the defensive line and she had the pace and power to get over in the corner.
Shortly afterwards, great pressure on the Chinese ball carriers saw possession pop free in their 22 and Keohane was there to hack on and score her second try which Murphy was unable to convert. Murphy then showed tremendous strength to gobble up a loose ball on the 10-metre line and outmuscle two Chinese tacklers as she barged over just to the left of the posts. Mulhall converted.
South Africa 14 Ireland 26
Scorers: Ireland: Tries: Katie Fitzhenry, Lucy Mulhall 2, Alison Miller; Cons: Lucy Mulhall 3
Ireland hit the ground running in this straight shootout for a World Series place, outscoring South Africa by three tries to one during the first seven minutes. They got off to a strong start, Louise Galvin and Ashleigh Baxter making ground and Lucy Mulhall was just held up over the try-line. They maintained the pressure and Baxter got her pass away for Katie Fitzhenry to score after a minute-and-a-half.
Ireland continued to press, Jenny Murphy driving forward in midfield and another fiery passage of attacking saw Mulhall half-tackled and then get up to stretch over the whitewash. She converted for a 14-0 lead.
It took a terrific try-saving tackle from Alison Miller to deny Veroeshka Grain a score, but from the resulting close-in scrum South African captain Zenay Jordaan sliced through from the left for a seven-pointer. However, Ireland had the final say before half-time as Mulhall’s brilliant breakout and pass saw Miller crash over near the left corner.
The ‘Boks used the boot to good effect in yesterday’s pool encounter, and from a kick through the ball squirted free for Grain to score early in the second half. Marithy Pienaar added an excellent conversion from wide on the right.
The increasingly influential Mulhall then gave South Africa a dose of their own medicine by gobbling up her own kick to glide in under the posts. Her conversion gave Ireland some breathing space at 26-14. An exhaustive period of defending from Ireland, with the likes of Baxter, Murphy and Fitzhenry really putting their bodies on the line, helped to seal the result – much to the delight of the home crowd.
Ireland 12 Japan 13
Scorers: Ireland: Tries: Amee-Leigh Crowe 2; Con: Lucy Mulhall
Ireland established a 7-0 interval lead after a scrappy first 10 minutes in wet conditions. Amee-Leigh Crowe sprinted clear from her own after the first three minutes had been played in Ireland’s half. Audrey O’Flynn did really well to win a ruck penalty before the ball was moved wide for Crowe to charge clean through from deep. Lucy Mulhall converted.
Ireland lost Hannah Tyrrell to an arm injury, and it took a try-saving tackle from Mulhall and a subsequent ruck penalty won by the excellent Claire Molloy to keep the Japanese out. Molloy was as busy as ever in the ruck exchanges.
Crowe was given a clear path to the try-line inside two minutes of the restart. Her second try, scored wide out on the left, owed much to the efforts of Louise Galvin and Mulhall in the build-up.
However, Claire Keohane had to retreat swiftly to avert the danger from a Japanese kick through, and Ireland had to dig deep over the next three minutes during a strength-sapping spell of defending. Murphy and Molloy were to the fore once more. The pressure told, though, when Yoko Suzuki jinked her way over in the right corner for a five-pointer.
That set up a nail-biting final three minutes, and the kick through rewarded Japan again when they retrieved possession and from a close-in ruck they released Chiharu Nakamura for an unconverted try. There was late drama when Baxter saw yellow and Okuroda coolly completed a remarkable comeback from the Japanese team.