Six NationsMatch Report

Ireland’s improvement clear to see as victory over Wales sealed early in Cork

Aoife Wafer outstanding as Ireland wrap the game up inside the first half

Women’s Six Nations: Ireland 36 Wales 5

Ireland’s fifth try, after an hour, concluded the rout over Wales. Long before then, all doubts had been cast aside. Dannah O’Brien moved left under pressure, keeping the ball alive; Dorothy Wall made a catch on the swivel; Edel McMahon made a pass out of contact; Aoife Wafer ran straight, burning a defender; Beibhinn Parsons exploded down the line. Four passes. Eleven seconds. Boom.

Everything about it reeked of bullish confidence and a different view of themselves. There was no space on the short side. They made space.

Around this time last year, the last time Ireland played in Cork, they hosted France and England and shipped 101 points; in reply, Ireland mustered one score. In last year’s Six Nations, Wales had feasted on Ireland’s frailties too, but in every sense that Ireland team no longer exists.

Under a new management the squad has been refreshed and revitalised. On Saturday, they snapped a seven-game losing streak in the Six Nations, that stretched back to the last round of the 2022 championship. Looking up again.


Still, they needed the validation of a win in the Six Nations. Inaccuracy and other gremlins in their execution had sabotaged them against Italy a fortnight ago but there were no such frustrations this time. In less than half an hour Ireland racked up three tries, each one beautifully conceived, and all tension floated away. Nobody was bothered in the raucous home crowd of more than 6,000.

It is hard to imagine that any game could have “a match-defining moment,” after two-and-a-half minutes, but Scott Bernard, the Irish coach, put a lot of store in how Ireland dealt with Wales’ first attack, turning away their line-out maul just metres from the Irish line.

“It’s funny what momentum and confidence can do to a group,” he said. “We knew the maul was something we’d have to deal with and I’m so pleased for the girls that they’ve been able to prove to themselves that they can do it.”

Wales didn’t make another entry into Ireland’s 22 for over an hour, by which time they were more than 30 points behind.

Ireland’s attacking play was terrific and Wafer was at the heart of three of Ireland’s tries. The young flanker, in her debut season, has already been touted by Bernard as a potential Lions tourist next year and she was the outstanding player on the pitch on Saturday.

She scored Ireland’s first try after 14 minutes, breaking a tackle in the corner to touch down after a patient, multi-phased attack, and she was instrumental in Ireland’s third try too. Wafer made a break, down the middle, and when she wasn’t held in the tackle, just inside the Welsh half, she resumed her gallop.

Wales were penalised inside their 22 and with the whiff of blood in their nostrils O’Brien kicked the penalty to the corner. The lineout maul made a slow start but it had a predictable outcome. Neve Jones got the touch-down.

Ireland terrorised Wales in the lineout and their second try came from that source. Edel McMahon stole a Welsh throw inside the Irish half with a terrifically elastic jump and Ireland attacked from the turnover.

Aoibhean Reilly, who conducted the game from scrumhalf, flew through a gap in midfield and by the time Wales’ scramble defence caught up with her Ireland were just five metres short of the Welsh line. Eve Higgins made the last surge to touch down near the posts.

Ireland led by 21-0 at half-time, and if there was any remote prospect of a Welsh comeback it was extinguished in the first couple of minutes of the second half. Ireland’s teenage wing Kate Corrigan charged down an attempted clearance by Lleucu George and gathered the loose ball to score near the posts. O’Brien, whose kicking from the hand and the tee was superb, added the conversion.

Ireland emptied their bench in the second half, and had no replacements left by the time Wafer had to leave the field with a few minutes to go. Prop Linda Djougang came off injured too, but in his post-match press conference Bernard didn’t express any major concerns about their availability for next Saturday’s visit to Twickenham. Ireland will need everyone.

“We can’t get too carried away with it,” said Bernard, who had been England’s assistant coach for seven years before he took the Ireland job. “It’s the next step. It’s great for the girls to be able to put a performance on – a winning performance.”

The importance of that was lost on nobody.

Ireland scorers: Tries: Wafer, Higgins, Jones, Corrigan, Parsons. Cons: O’Brien 5 Pen: O’Brien

Wales scorer: Try: Hopkins

IRELAND: L Delaney (Sale); K Corrigan (Leinster), E Higgins (Leinster), E Breen (Munster), B Parsons (Connacht); D O’Brien (Leinster), A Reilly (Connacht); L Djougang (Leinster), N Jones (Gloucester-Hartpury), C Haney (Leinster); D Wall (Munster), S Monaghan (Gloucester-Hartpury); A Wafer (Leinster), E McMahon (Exeter Chiefs), B Hogan (Ulster).

Replacements: F Tuite (Ulster) for Monaghan (49 mins); C Moloney (Exeter Chiefs) for Jones (51); M Scuffil McCabe (Leinster) for Reilly, A Dalton (Leinster) for Breen (both 55); S Ikahihifo (Ealing Trailfinders) for Hogan (58); S McGrath (Ulster) for Djougang, N O’Dowd (Leinster) for Haney (both 63); N Fowley (Connacht) for McMahon (66).

WALES: J Henketh; J Joyce, H Jones, K Lake, C Cox; L George, K Bevan; G Pyrs, C Philips, S Tuipulotu; A Fleming, G Evans; A Butchers, A Callender, B Lewis

Replacements: N John for Butchers (28 mins); C Keight for Lake (35); S Jones for Bevan (51); M Reardon for Philips (52); D Rose for Tuipulotu, A Constable for Prys (both 57); G Hopkins for Fleming, K Powell for George (both 60).

Referee: Sara Cox (RFU).

Denis Walsh

Denis Walsh

Denis Walsh is a sports writer with The Irish Times