Efficient Ireland still in the title hunt

Big win in Paris now required to give give holders a chance of retaining their trophy

Ireland’s Jenny Murphy stretches to the line to score a try against Italy at the Aviva Stadium. Photo: Ryan Byrne/Inpho

Ireland’s Jenny Murphy stretches to the line to score a try against Italy at the Aviva Stadium. Photo: Ryan Byrne/Inpho

Mon, Mar 10, 2014, 01:00

Ireland 39 Italy 0

During the warm up on the back pitch they were fine. In the Lansdowne pavilion before kick-off they were still tuned in.

Only when Fiona Coghlan began Ireland’s very long march to the pitch, when they were greeted by the throng leaving Brian O’Driscoll’s closing down party, did the enormity of the occasion arrive with a collective jolt.

“They were in good humour the whole way through the weekend but I think it hit them when we walked out of the changing room and there were thousands of people,” said coach Philip Doyle.

“We had to walk through this little channel and it just hit us like a brick wall. You could see in the first 10 minutes we were a bit shell shocked, caught back on our heels a bit.”

The tunnel
All except for Niamh Briggs who played for Waterford in an All-Ireland final at Croke Park in 2010. The fullback, having literally shrugged off a shoulder injury, settled Ireland into a six-nil lead after 27 minutes with her second penalty.

“The walk through the tunnel was all a bit much,” Doyle continued. “Hopefully in years to come when they do it a few times they will get used to that.”

The key word is hopefully. No plans are in place to make this a regular occurrence and as a profit making exercise it probably wouldn’t be alluring for the IRFU.

There were also reports of those with tickets exclusively from the women’s game being denied entry to the ground until well after the 5pm kick-off. So plenty of lessons to be learned.

What did run smoothly was the five-try dismantling of Italy that sets up a championship decider against the Grand Slam -chasing French at the Stade de Hameau in Pau this Friday.

Last year they bettered France up in Ashbourne in tough conditions but this will be different proposition entirely.

“It’s going to be a massive game,” Doyle agreed. “France bring this physicality and I hope we are up for it, we’ll have to be better than we were here . . They are a better team than they were [last year]. They seem to have got bigger, stronger and faster and they have a very good scrum. I think we have as well but the physicality is a worry for me but one the girls will relish.”

But back to history. The first try from a woman at the stadium was claimed by Ireland’s outstanding flanker Claire Molloy, following a neat offload from prop Gillian Bourke just after the half hour mark.

Briggs converted and from then on the result was never in doubt.

When Lynne Cantwell expertly slalomed through a gap before half-time to give Briggs another conversion the margin was stretched out to 20.

Italy were poor. Ireland were their usual efficient and ruthless selves. Considering the 17-10 defeat to England at Twickenham the second-half tries from Alison Miller and Heather O’Brien and Jenny Murphy all mattered. But France’s whopping 69-0 destruction of Scotland leaves Ireland facing a huge task.

The last try was a reminder of the difficult problem facing Doyle this week. Cantwell’s midfield partner here was Grace Davitt, winning her 50th cap, but Murphy’s power surges off first phase seem essential against France.

“I have to say Grace Davitt was exceptional,” said Doyle. “I’ve got a headache there.”

Pushing hard
Larissa Muldoon is another pushing hard for a recall at scrumhalf. Same can be said about prop Ailis Egan

But it’s already been a season that can be respected. There was no shame losing to England but defending their title remains a target because of the individual performances of players like Cantwell, Molloy, Briggs and the towering Sophie Spence.

Additions to last year’s group have also not gone unnoticed. O’Brien has done a fine job at number eight following the retirement of Joy Neville while the attack strategies of Fergal Campion are evident.

Still, the stars must align for a big win in the south of France. They very nearly managed it two years ago so the 10,000 -plus partisan crowd, band and all, will not rattle them. Not after Saturday’s experience.

What could be their undoing is the physically imposing opposition.

“We will have to clean up at the breakdown. . . France are a team at home where they always play well and where we have never won before. We know their strengths so it is about trying to negate their strengths,” said Coghlan.

Interested in seeing what happens? It’s being broadcast live on RTÉ Two.
Scoring sequence
4 mins: N Briggs pen, 3-0; 27: N Briggs pen, 6-0; 31: C Molloy try, 11-0; N Briggs conv, 13-0; 37: L Cantwell try, 18-0; N Briggs conv, 20-0. Half-time. 48: A Miller try, 25-0; 63: H O’Brien try, 30-0; N Briggs conv, 32-0; J Murphy try, 37-0; N Stapleton conv, 39-0.
IRELAND: N Briggs; A Baxter, L Cantwell, G Davitt, A Miller; N Stapleton, A Davis; F Coghlan, S-L Kennedy, G Bourke; S Spence, M-L Reilly; S Fleming, C Molloy, H O’Brien. Replacements: A Egan for S-L Kennedy (50 mins), L Muldoon for A Davis, P Fitzpatrick (both 60 mins), J Murphy for L Cantwell (63 mins), J Shiels for N Briggs, H Casey for A Miller (both 69 mins), K-A Craddock for F Coghlan, F Hayes for G Bourke (both 76 mins).
ITALY: M Furlan; M Veronese, M Sillari, B Rigoni, MG Cioffi; V Schiavon, S Barbattin; M Ferrari, M Bettoni, A Coulibaly; C Molic, A Trevisan; M Este, I Arrighetti, S Gaudino. Replacements: S Stefan for M Veronese (61 mins), L Cammarano for M Ferrari (64 mins), D Ballarini for A Coulibaly, E Giordano for I Arrighetti (both 69 mins), M Magatti for M Sillari (70 mins), I Campanini for M Bettoni, A Pantarotto for A Trevisan (both 77 mins).
Referee: L Berard (USA).