Irish launch World bid with impressive hard-fought win
Ireland are up and running at the Women's World Cup after edging a tense opening clash with the United States at Marcoussis. Philip Doyle's charges won't have long to dwell on their win given that world champions New Zealand lie in wait on Tuesday.
However, having achieved their primary objective of getting four points, they may regret their inability to kick on from their two first-half tries and collect a bonus given they are likely to be in a race for the fourth semi-final spot at the end of the pool stages.
Still, winning was clearly the priority for Ireland against an American side who appeared to be chasing tries in the first half, turning down kickable penalties in an attempt to capitalise on their greater size.
In contrast, the 2013 Grand Slam winners placed their faith in the boot of Niamh Briggs, who guided them through some tough moments during the early stages and finished with 18 points.
Briggs opened the scoring after just two minutes with a penalty after Sarah Walsh was harshly penalised at the ruck, but USA were soon on top, with openside Lynelle Kugler causing problems for the Irish defence.
A penalty conceded by Grace Davitt after a crunching Lynne Cantwell tackle gave USA the opening they needed as Kimber Rozier kicked to touch and, after the maul came up short, the fly-half fed Kugler, who easily stepped inside Davitt's attempted tackle to score. Rozier converted, but Ireland responded with a second Briggs penalty after Claire Molloy charged down Kate Daley's box-kick and the American backline strayed offside.
Ireland were struggling to break through a resolute defence, but the tide turned on the half-hour mark when American second-row Sarah Walsh saw yellow after one breakdown offence too many.
Briggs kicked to the corner and the forwards took over, with the maul going close before Sophie Spence carried to the line and tighthead prop Ailish Egan powered over. Briggs converted.
And they managed to squeeze in a try on the whistle after Alison Miller and Briggs made the hard yards, before Briggs surged over.
She converted her own try to give Ireland a 20-10 lead at the break, but that lasted just two minutes of the second period as American second-row Carmen Farmer stormed over and Rozier's conversion cut the deficit to three points.
Things got tense from there on in, as Doyle introduced Jenny Murphy with instant results as the Kildare centre made breaks with her first two touches that led to Briggs stretching the lead to six points.
Briggs pulled a drop-goal and penalty wide as she looked to put the result beyond doubt, but they held on comfortably.
IRELAND: N Briggs; A Baxter, L Cantwell, G Davitt (J Murphy 57), A Miller; N Stapleton, T Rosser (L Muldoon 76); F Coghlan (capt), G Bourke, A Egan; S Spence (L Guest 74), ML Reilly; S Fleming (P Fitzpatrick 57), C Molloy, H O'Brien.
USA: M Blizer; V McGee, B Baravilala, E Bydwell, S Anderson, K Rozier, J Tseng (D Oswiany 68); H Rogers (S Wilson 72), K Augustyn (K Wagner 58), J Burke (S Chobot 54); C Farmer, S Walsh; J Potter, L Kugler (S Turley 54), K Daley (capt).
Referee: S Trumbull (Canada).