Frustration as Ireland fail to hold on to lead against England
Narrow defeat at Twickenham must be learning experience for us, says Ailis Egan
Ireland’s Larissa Muldoon in action during against England at Twickenham: Ireland were unable to hold on to their 9-8 lead. Photograph: Gareth Fuller/PA
Setting up camp at the water’s edge, otherwise known as England’s try line, had to yield five points if victory was to be even considered on the vast and unforgiving Twickenham pitch.
That is what Ireland managed to achieve – the camp, not the points, for a crucial period in and around the hour mark of this season-defining fixture.
It became a moment when nothing short of a try was acceptable as England had been reduced to 14 players by Harriet Millar-Mills’s sin-binning for repeated infringements at the breakdown.
“That was the turning point in the game,” conceded Ailis Egan, Ireland’s veteran prop. “In the first half we didn’t front up in terms of chop tackling and let them to come at us but in the second half they were a man down, that was our opportunity and we didn’t take it.
Those moments in international rugby, they are the winning and losing of games.
“Not that we are far off. We are just not executing as individuals so we have to look at ourselves collectively before the return to Donnybrook.”
The season rolls out now for Tom Tierney’s side with the chance of retaining their Six Nations title out of reach but the two Sunday fixtures against Italy then Scotland should generate some interest.
“We have to make Donnybrook a fortress,” said Egan. “This game was there for the taking but we didn’t. These are the type of close games that we have to learn how to close off going into the World Cup next year. It must be a learning experience.”
It initially looked like the world champions would steamroll the Six Nations holders when Emma Croker profited from a driving maul for the first try after 21 minutes. Amber Reed missed the conversion but had already posted a penalty for an 8-0 lead.
But, as per usual with any Ireland squad captained by Niamh Briggs, they went about chipping away at the two-score lead with three penalties coming off the pack’s industry, where Claire Molloy and Sophie Spence were outstanding.
Again, nothing new there.
Briggs took every point on offer off the tee.
Then came the precious period of territorial dominance which resulted in zero points. That proved the deciding factor in this game as the championship all but slipped out of Ireland’s grasp when Abbie Scott dived over for a second England try after 62 minutes. Still only a four-point deficit, but it felt like more as Ireland struggled to find their way back towards the scoring zone.
As the night wore on and chill set in it took an age to eat up 20, 30 metres.
“Yes, that’s going to make it very difficult, nigh on impossible [to retain their title],” said Tierney. “But we got to keep going. To go ahead 9-8, we really got back on top, we had a penalty and went for a scrum and then went wide off that scrum with good play.
That’s very disappointing, that we took our foot off the pedal, and in fairness to England they played very smart to get that score.
“Unfortunately we are learning the hard way about how to close out a game and what it takes to be a winning international team.
“It is a hard learning curve because we got ourselves into a position to close out that game and never did.”
Tough, bruising night all round.