Crucial victory over Scotland seals Ireland’s return to the big time

Progress secured by third-place finish ensures qualification for next year’s World Cup in England

Ireland's Katie Corrigan celebrates with Aoibheann Reilly and Neve Jones after scoring her side's first try against Scotland at Kingspan Stadium. Photograph: Ben Brady/Inpho

The pain of Parma when denied qualification for the last World Cup by a converted Scottish try in the game’s last play will never be entirely erased but Ireland banished a few demons at the Kingspan Stadium last Saturday.

This win to fulfil their pre-tournament target of a third-place finish, and with that qualification for next year’s World Cup in England, was confirmation of the progress made in every single department of their game in this campaign.

To rebound as they did from last week’s chastening defeat in Twickenham and, equally, a hugely frustrating first half riddled with handling errors at the end of which they trailed 5-0, told us much about this team’s collective character and resilience.

Suddenly the passes started sticking and Brittany Hogan laid on a superb finish by Ireland’s find of the championship, 18-year-old Katie Corrigan within a minute of the resumption.


Then, even when falling 12-5 behind after a well-worked and well-taken try by the outstanding Scottish centre Lisa Thomson, Ireland’s inner belief never wavered.

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All their big players had big games, notably Linda Djougang, Sam Monaghan, Aoife Wafer, Hogan, Aoibheann Reilly and Beibhinn Parsons. Helped by the impact of Clíodhna Moloney and Niamh O’Dowd, there was an inevitability about the former’s try on her day of redemption, as well as the winning penalty by Dannah O’Brien.

The Scots will surely rue not opting for a penalty just outside the 22 when instead kicking for the corner in the 76th minute, given a draw would have secured them third place and all the rewards that went with that.

Be that as it may, Ireland saw out the win with one strong defensive set before Monaghan’s pressure and O’Dowd’s snaffling of the loose ball secured the game’s final lineout.

There’s no doubt that the fixtures fell nicely for this Irish team, in that they had their other three rivals in the ‘best of the rest’ tournament within a tournament all at home, and it was encouraging that the 7,000-plus crowd established a third successive attendance record.

The Ireland players celebrate qualifying for the 2025 Women’s Rugby World Cup. Photograph: Ben Brady

Results elsewhere also went their way, right up to Wales beating Italy in Saturday’s earlier game with a late converted try to make this game a straight shoot-out.

But having had 62 per cent territory and 54 per cent possession, as well as making more line breaks, more carries and forcing more missed tackles, it was hard to dispute that Ireland were deserving winners.

The prize had barely come within sight than the debate around whether also securing a place in the WXV1 as opposed to the second tier next September might be a double-edged sword.

There is the example of Wales last year, when they were beaten 42-22 by Canada, 70-7 by New Zealand and 25-14 by Australia, but one only improves by playing the best and, while he didn’t have much option but to embrace the prospect, Scott Bemand happily welcomed the more rarefied air of WXV1 Ireland will be occupying in September/October

“It’s a good debate,” he agreed. “We’ve always said that we want to learn faster than anyone else so this is a great opportunity to pitch ourselves against New Zealand, Canada and Australia, if that’s how it rolls out as last year.

“But it’s a great opportunity for us and we’ll try to learn as fast as we possibly can and take as many moments from it, to propel us to a World Cup. A lot of these opponents we wouldn’t have played recently so it gives us an opportunity to pitch ourselves against people that we could meet in England 2025.”

There’s little doubt as to who are the odds-on favourites to win that tournament on home soil as later on Saturday in the “best of the best” Super Saturday finale, the runaway serial champions England completed a third Grand Slam in a row by beating France in another fantastic contest between the pair at a packed Stade Chaban Delmas.

This was also England’s fifth title in a row as well as their 29th successive win in the Women’s Six Nations, which must make it the least competitive international sport in the world.

Meanwhile, it has to be said that the margins between the other four are very thin. After all, Ireland have beaten Scotland, who have beaten Wales, who have beaten Italy, who have beaten Ireland.

Ultimately, Ireland were indebted to that fourth try against Wales but they did score the most tries of that quartet and this fine achievement was a huge stepping stone toward better times ahead.

Gerry Thornley

Gerry Thornley

Gerry Thornley is Rugby Correspondent of The Irish Times