Belfast Telegraph

Home Sport Rugby Six Nations

Irish girls are right at home after victory over Wales

By Cian Tracey

It was the dawning of a new era for Irish women's rugby and even though it felt just like that, it was the grit and determination of old that got their Six Nations title defence off to an ideal start with a 21-3 victory over Wales in their new home surrounds in Donnybrook.

The memories of floodlight failure in Ashbourne last season have been consigned to the past and now Ireland have a modern, accessible Dublin base that is likely to build on the 3,250 who watched Wales crumble under the pressure exerted by the champions' pack.

As she turned her focus to France, No.8 Heather O'Brien said: "We're really looking forward to having a few games here.

"We loved Ashbourne, it was a real home and the people were fantastic, but it feels really nice to be in Dublin. We can call it home now.

"We feel like we owe France one. They beat us last year when we won the Championship on points."

At times Ireland made it difficult for themselves but they were never in any real danger. For the 10 players who made their first Six Nations appearance, Saturday's experience will be priceless.

O'Brien and Paula Fitzpatrick both recently joined Toulouse and O'Brien believes that their insight will help this week's preparations.

"We have a bit more of an understanding of how the French are going to play. It's a good insight to have.

"We probably have a more strategic and ruck-focused game whereas they want more of an off-loading game."

Ireland's vastly experienced back-row suffocated Wales at the breakdown, which set the platform for the likes of Sene Naoupu in the backs to add a touch of flair.

The Kiwi, who was celebrating her 32nd birthday, was outstanding throughout and her bone-shuddering hit set the tone early on. From there, the players around her and the vocal supporters grew in confidence.

Coach Tom Tierney said of Naoupu: "The enthusiasm, skill level and defensive attributes that she brings, she's a quality player.

"We're playing her now at 12 in her best position. She's our second playmaker and we got glimpses of that. The try that she scored was very, very impressive."

Niamh Briggs' penalty cancelled out Robyn Wilkins' after a rare Welsh foray into Irish territory before Naoupu lit up the contest with a brilliant piece of individual skill midway through the first-half.

Naoupu spotted a small gap in the Welsh line and she didn't need a second invitation to sprint clear from outside the 22 for a classy try that Briggs converted.

Sophie Spence finished off a sweeping move started by Briggs as Ireland went into the break 15-3 to the good.

Briggs added two further penalties in a second-half that lacked the quality of the first but in truth, Wales didn't offer a threat.

The game had long been won though and Tierney was relieved to get a win in what was Ireland's first game in Donnybrook since 2006.

"The experienced girls were just here to do a job," the coach maintained. "When they've got time to reflect, they'll see the stand was pretty full and there was a lot of noise. It's lovely to get a win the first time that we're at home in a new stadium."

Ireland: N Briggs (capt); E O'Byrne-White, A Donnelly (J Shiels 69), S Naoupu, M Coyne; N Caughey (N Stapleton 60), L Muldoon (M Healy 78); A Egan (L Peat 75), Z Grattage (C Moloney 49), R O'Reilly (F Reidy 78); S Spence, M-L Reilly (C Cooney 69); P Fitzpatrick, C Molloy, H O'Brien (C Griffin 60).

Wales: A Taviner; E Evans (C Edwards 19-29) (D Hywel 69), K Lake (G Rowland 33), H Jones (E Snowsill 52), B Dainton; R Wilkins, K Bevan; A Evans (C Hale 77), C Phillips, M York (C Edwards 60); R Rowe (S Lillicrap 55), S Harries; R Taylor, S Williams, S Powell-Hughes (A Butchers 43).

Referee: L Beard (USA)

Belfast Telegraph


From Belfast Telegraph