Ireland show some character despite being outclassed and held scoreless by England

A bonus point victory over Scotland and some good fortune in other results is needed not to finish bottom

England's Tatyana Heard scores her team's second try during the Women's Six Nations match at Musgrave Park. Photograph: Ben Brady/Inpho

Ireland 0 England 48

Ireland head coach Greg McWilliams will be able to find some green shoots when he sifts through the performance minutiae, sufficient material to solidify the argument of incremental improvement during the Six Nations Championship.

He’ll concentrate on the second half, principally the half an hour after the restart in which Ireland managed to hold the visitors scoreless, achieved on foot of being more aggressive in the physical collisions, more attuned to the spaces in the kicking game and in playing the officials, who were very much laissez-faire in not policing the breakdown with any rigour or consistency.

During this period Sam Monaghan, Grace Moore, Brittany Hogan and Deirbhile Nic a Bháird carried with purpose and tackled with bristling aggression and when they add a little footwork in future it will reap even greater dividends.

There is so much to commend in teenage outhalf Dannah O’Brien’s temperament. In the first half she failed to find touch when her team needed respite, occasionally ran when she should have kicked and vice versa but not once did she shy away from taking responsibility and trying to manage the game.


After the interval, her kicking game improved palpably, to the extent that she put pressure on England’s back three. It was the precursor to some of Ireland’s better moments, including getting her team to within five metres of the English line with the lineout throw to follow.

Unfortunately for the home side, Ireland were out of touch in this aspect of the game, both chances went abegging as the ball was turned over, two of seven or eight that went astray in that facet of the game, and with it, a chance to remove the bare look from the scoreboard.

Ireland's Nichola Fryday is tackled by Holly Aitchison, Mackenzie Carson and Marlie Packer of England at Musgrave Park. Photograph: Tom Maher/Inpho

In their last three matches against England, Ireland have failed to score a point, and in this season’s tournament, have managed just 15 in 320 minutes of rugby.

They were creatively bereft on the day, too much of the back play was lateral and meandering, and only rescued occasionally by an odd individual cameo, a couple of slaloming runs by Aoife Doyle and the consistently excellent Lauren Delany spring to mind. Replacement scrumhalf Ailsa Hughes made one superb break.

Ireland’s gritty resilience for that half an hour atoned in part for an error strewn opening 40-minutes in which brittle tackling offered England cheap points that required very little perspiration to prise open the Irish defence. Simon Middleton’s team crossed for five tries, facilitated by basic mistakes and missed first-up tackles.

Despite being a little off-colour generally and a tad careless at times, England’s shape and skill sets were admirable. English secondrow and player of the match, the brilliant Sarah Beckett, Amber Reed, Ellie Kildunne, captain Marlie Packer – she was helped off injured as was prop Hannah Botterman – and Helena Rowland crossed for first half tries with Lagi Tuima adding a conversion.

Ireland brought a more focused vigour to their work after the interval on both sides of the ball, more resolute and accurate in their tackling on foot of increased line-speed much to the delight of the home crowd who were desperate for any incentive to cheer.

England’s bench gave them scrum dominance in the final quarter and in winning penalties it enabled them to establish the field position to score three tries in the last nine minutes, two for number eight Alex Matthews and another from replacement Amber Reed. It gave the scoreboard a slightly harsh look on the balance of play after the interval.

England's Ellie Kildunne tries to keep the ball in play ahead of Natasja Behan of Ireland at Musgrave Park. Photograph: Tom Maher/Inpho

Ireland head coach Greg McWilliams admitted: “It’s a funny one, disappointed with the result (as) we still lost by nearly 50 points to England. That’s not where we want to be, we want to be more competitive.

“If you look at the growth that this team has had in a short space of time, we are seeing improvements and we are seeing a group that are beginning to come together, becoming tighter. It takes time. I hope that we can look back at these moments as building a proper foundation, a strong foundation for women’s rugby moving forward, that we don’t have any dips.

“I think that is important. They (players) showed that they had a good bit of pride and fight and you saw that in their heart. We have got to get better.”

Scotland’s surprise victory over Italy means that Ireland travel to Edinburgh next weekend needing a bonus point victory and some good fortune in other results not to finish bottom of the table which would automatically propel them into Tier 3 of the Women’s XV competition later in the year.

McWilliams said prior to learning of the Scottish result: “It’s (the Scottish match) a cup final. We said at the start of the Six Nations, wherever we are at the end we will own it because that is a true reflection of where we are right now.

“If we finish in Tier 2 (of the Women’s XV series) then great. If we finish in Tier 3 we will own it and make sure that we put a plan in place that gets us back up to Tier 1, where Ireland and this group will want to be.”

SCORING SEQUENCE – 1 min: Beckett try, 0-5; 16: Heard try, 0-10; 21: Kildunne try, 0-15; 26: M Packer try, 0-20; 35: Talling try, Tuima con, 0-27. Half-time: 0-27. 71: Reed try, Rowland con, 0-34; 77: Matthews try, Rowland con, 0-41; 80 (+2): Matthews try, Rowland con 0-48.

IRELAND: L Delany (Sale Sharks); A Doyle (Railway Union), A Dalton (Old Belvedere), Vicky Irwin (Sale Sharks), N Behan (Blackrock College); D O’Brien (Old Belvedere), M Scuffil-McCabe (Railway Union); L Djougang (Old Belvedere), N Jones (Gloucester-Hartpury), C Haney (Blackrock College); N Fryday (Exeter Chiefs), S Monaghan (Gloucester-Hartpury); B Hogan (Old Belvedere), Grace Moore (Saracens), Deirbhile Nic a Bháird (Old Belvedere).

Replacements: K Buggy (Gloucester-Hartpury) for Djougang (HIA, 28 mins); A McGann (Railway Union) for Irwin (HIA, 34-half-time); McGann for Dalton (52); Jo Brown (Worcester Warriors) for Moore (56); C Nielson (Exeter Chiefs) for Jones, A Hughes (Railway Union) for Scuffil-McCabe (both 64); H O’Connor (Blackrock) for Hogan, M Deely (Blackrock College) for Behan (both 66); S McGrath (Cooke) for Haney (78).

ENGLAND: E Kildunne (Harlequins); A Dow (Harlequins), L Tuima (Harlequins), T Tatyana Heard (Gloucester-Hartpury), C MacDonald (Exeter Chiefs); H Aitchison (Saracens), N Hunt (Gloucester-Hartpury); H Botterman (Saracens), C Powell (Gloucester-Hartpury), M Muir (Gloucester-Hartpury); Z Aldcroft (Gloucester-Hartpury), S Beckett (Gloucester-Hartpury); S Kabeya (Loughborough Lightning), M Packer (Saracens, capt), A Matthews (Gloucester-Hartpury).

Replacements: M Carson (Saracens) for Botterman (28 mins); M Talling (Loughborough Lightning) for M Packer (35); H Rowland Loughborough Lightning) for Tuima, A Reed (Bristol Bears) for Heard, D Burns (Bristol Bears) for Aldcott (all 52); L Davies (Bristol Bears) for Powell, S Bern (Bristol Bears) for Muir (both 60); L Packer (Harlequins) for Hunt (64).

Referee: Lauren Jenner (Italy)

John O'Sullivan

John O'Sullivan

John O'Sullivan is an Irish Times sports writer