Ireland off to dream start against USA

Fullback Niamh Briggs kicks 13 points and adds a try as Philip Doyle’s side survive physical onslaught

Ireland’s Sophie Spence enjoys the moment after her side’s bruising World Cup opener against the USA at Marcoussis in Paris. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

Ireland’s Sophie Spence enjoys the moment after her side’s bruising World Cup opener against the USA at Marcoussis in Paris. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

Sat, Aug 2, 2014, 01:00

IRELAND 23, USA 17 Ireland got off to a dream start at the Women’s Rugby World Cup after coming out at the right end of a bruising encounter with the USA.

Fullback Niamh Briggs kicked 13 points and added a try as Ireland survived both a physical onslaught on the pitch and the suffocating early-evening heat outside of Paris.

Head coach Philip Doyle had predicted an intense battle up front against the heaviest team in the tournament and the Americans did not disappoint in that regard.

In the initial exchanges, though, everything went to plan. Ireland stole a lineout within the first minute and a minute later they were 3-0 in front after Briggs punished the indiscipline of US secondrow Sarah Walsh.

The USA roared back, however, getting in Irish faces with impressive line speed and a direct approach that helped them get over the gain line 13 times in the opening half. Those tactics paid dividends in the seventh minute after flanker Lynelle Kruger barged over off Jocelyn Tseng’s feed.

Shaky start

Doyle had said his side had to box clever to win. That is just what they did, with the lineout team recovering from a shaky start and the forwards gradually getting a handle on their US counterparts.

The Irish were banking on greater discipline playing a part too and repeated US infringements saw Walsh yellow-carded on the half hour.

Immediately afterwards Ireland got a try to put them back in front. Tireless secondrow Sophie Spence and captain Fiona Coughlan made inroads to the left of the posts before Ailis Egan followed up to score.

Five minutes later Irish flanker Claire Molloy followed Walsh to the sideline, just a minute after Coughlan had been warned over her team’s behaviour.

It was Ireland who coped better 14 against 14 though. Approaching half-time, Briggs turned down a chance to go wide when space was there, but seconds later the fullback demonstrated a forwards’ skill with a pick and go for Ireland’s second try.

Healthy lead

A conversion from Briggs gave Ireland a healthy 20-10 lead at the interval but a slack start to the second half let the USA back into the game.

With Molloy still sidelined, the US forwards teed up Carmen Farmer who burst through Gillian Burke’s attempted tackle to bring them uncomfortably close to Ireland’s score.

Four close-range tries tell the tale of what kind of game it was and while the pace slowed, the hits didn’t. After 53 intensely-fought minutes, Ireland will not have been pleased to see the US bring on 85-kilo prop Sarah Chobot and flanker Shaina Turley.

Ireland had an ace up their sleeve too though, with Jenny Murphy coming on to add much needed impetus in midfield.

In a game of few line breaks, her direct running produced two in quick succession, the second of which was held up just in front of the line by a combination of Jocelyn Tseng and Akalaini Baravilala.

Scrambled back

The US defence scrambled back but Turley went off her feet and was sinbinned. Briggs’s penalty made it 23-17 and in the end it was the US who ran out of steam.

Influential scrumhalf Tseng was forced off after a massive hit from Molloy and prop Hope Rogers also struggled to the sideline after running into Paula Fitzpatrick and Nora Stapleton.

The Irish maul was starting to motor and most of the last 20 minutes played out in opposition territory.

Briggs missed a snatched drop goal attempt and a penalty at the death but Ireland held out with relative comfort.

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