Ireland's maiden achievement secured in style
Ireland's Alison Miller and Sophie Spence celebrate at the final whistle after beating Scotland to claim the Triple Crown. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho
Scotland 3 Ireland 30:A Triple Crown and qualification for next year’s World Cup Paris secured, this victory represents so much more than that. It is the breakout track for women’s rugby in Ireland. The proof was among the four figure attendance at Lasswade rugby club in Bonnyrigg on a bitterly cold Saturday. The IRFU committee men showed up.
That’s a small but significant step. Now to get Fiona Coghlan’s women into the spotlight on a regular basis. It could start by making them an occasional fixture on the undercard of the men’s internationals. Like England do.
Lord knows, they have earned the right for increased exposure. This was almost a false dawn. For the extremely uncomfortable opening quarter Scotland had them under severe pressure. They put themselves under it too. That’s what a Triple Crown match does to the psyche. And the weight of expectation having so impressively blitzed England a fortnight ago.
It was nervy, the ball wasn’t sticking to normally reliable hands and Scotland’s confidence was rising with each unforced error. The mood of each team was in stark contrast, Ireland rigid and focused during Ireland’s Call while the Scottish ladies were visibly relaxed; many of them burst out laughing when hooker Sarah Quick roared “against them!” on the quiet moments of Flower of Scotland.
Welsh referee Simon Rees was proving a bloody nuisance as well, harshly penalising Ireland at three successive scrums for spinning 90 degrees. He had a poor game in general, missing Scotland’s inability to throw the required five metres at the lineout and so obviously inconsistent when punishing Ireland’s excellent counter-rucking.
It was the breakdown, and so many other facets of play, that Ireland’s devilish flankers Claire Molloy and Siobhan Fleming excelled. “Our backrow won us this game,” said head coach Philip “Goose” Doyle afterwards.
But there were several early problems. Lisa Ritchie got the hosts off to a perfect start with a penalty on seven minutes. Fear and tension permeated around the Irish section of the tiny main stand, with many of the inhabitants parents, relatives or close friends of the players.
I had the good fortune of sitting beside Mick Coghlan, a model of calmness in a sea of concern. The captain’s father has been following women’s rugby for over a decade after a lifetime of interest in the sport itself. He’s been to almost every match Fiona has played in a green jersey.
But like the rest of us, Mick became a helpless onlooker, as had Doyle and his impressive backroom team, in that opening 20 minutes. Victory had to be earned on the field and it desperately required leaders to rise up. They needed a score, which dashing fullback Niamh Briggs eventually supplied on 22 minutes to level matters.
Then, for a time, the girls found their mojo. Lynne Cantwell, the women’s version of Brian O’Driscoll, sparked to life in midfield with Jenny Murphy inside her, think Jamie Roberts, beginning to make inroads.
Fleming and Molloy were everywhere that Scottish ball could be disrupted and both carried like lunatics. Coghlan and Joy Neville also got in the thick of it while wingers, Ashleigh Baxter and Alison Miller, started working off the promptings of halfback pair Nora Stapleton and Larissa Muldoon.