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Fitzpatrick looks to positives as Ireland women fall to late defeat

Ireland 10 England 12

By Robert Jones

A converted 74th-minute Izzy Noel-Smith try was the difference in the UCD Bowl yesterday as Ireland Women suffered a narrow defeat to World champions England in their opening November Series International.

In front of a packed crowd for the first of three Tests at the Belfield venue, Ireland coach Tom Tierney handed a debut to Nicole Fowley at outside centre.

The boss was already without injured captain Niamh Briggs and Sophie Spence, and injuries in each half to Cliodhna Moloney and Claire Molloy robbed the hosts of two more instrumental players.

It was England who made the breakthrough in the 34th minute, as Rochelle Clarke secured an unconverted try from an incisive maul.

However, a routine Nora Stapleton penalty - she was kicking in place of the absent Briggs - subsequently reduced Ireland's deficit to two points (5-3) in time for the break, and with Leah Lyons and Chloe Pearse making their international bows from the replacements bench, the home team moved into the ascendancy on 51 minutes.

Stapleton drove over the whitewash after discovering a gap, and the Donegal native added the bonus to her own score to help Ireland establish a five-point cushion.

England, however, showed their class and eventually claimed their second try through Noel-Smith, and with the experienced Katy McLean finding her range from a touchline conversion, the visitors held out for a hard-earned triumph.

Stand-in Irish skipper Paula Fitzpatrick said: "I'm really devastated to lose, but what a performance from the girls - from one to 23, it was outstanding.

"We really had huge control in parts of that game, and we haven't played together in months."

England's Sarah Hunter commented afterwards: "It was a really competitive game, it could have gone either way at the end.

"I'm happy to get the victory, but maybe not so happy about our performance.

"We've certainly got things to work on."

Scorers: Ireland Women: N Stapleton try, pen, con. England Women: R Clarke, I Noel-Smith one try each, K McLean con.

IRELAND WOMEN: M Coyne; N Kavanagh, N Fowley, S Naoupu, A Miller; N Stapleton, L Muldoon (M Healy 53); L Peat (F Hayes 64), C Moloney (L Lyons 35), A Egan; ML Reilly, O Fitzsimons (K Norris 75); C Griffin, C Molloy (C Pearse 45), P Fitzpatrick.

ENGLAND WOMEN: D Waterman; K Wilson, C Allan (K McLean 53), R Burford (C Large 70), F Pocock; E Scott, LT Mason (M Hunt 53); R Clarke (V Cornborough 57), V Fleetwood, L Keates (J Lucas 57); T Taylor, H Millar-Mills (P Cleall 70); I Noel-Smith, M Packer (A Cokayne 44), S Hunter.

Referee: A Perrett (Australia).

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