Ireland get the job done against Italy but more play is needed
Visitors were atrocious in possession which meant Irish mistakes weren’t punished
Ireland’s Amee-Leigh Murphy Crowe scores her side’s second try during the Six Nations win over Italy. Photo: Ryan Byrne/Inpho
Ireland 25 Italy 5
Some rugby broke out during this error strewn Six Nations finale as Ireland confirmed their status as the third best team in Europe.
On this evidence that is nothing to celebrate. At least this three game campaign showed qualification for New Zealand 2022 should be achieved without too much stress later this year. Especially if Amee-Leigh Murphy Crowe - the Sevens programme’s secret weapon - is on the wing.
But all the problems visible against France, during last week’s 56-15 defeat, were on show again. Luckily for Ireland, Italy were beyond atrocious in possession.
“Good morning ladies and gentlemen from Energia Park,” began the informative public announcer in an empty Donnybrook stadium.
Warming up in the AM is never a good start to a test match. As the rest of the country leaned into a sun-kissed Saturday, the Irish women were loud and aggressive as they psyched themselves up for battle.
By half-time, with Ireland comfortably the better side and leading 8-0, head coach Adam Griggs must have been tempted to empower the Sevens players to just play ball.
Stacey Flood had already seen this memo, tapping and going at every opportunity as she made the 10 jersey her own for the foreseeable future. Now all Flood needs to learn is how to play outhalf in a 15s setting, but the Dublin footballer possesses all the tools to make a rapid transition.
It took eight minutes to splinter the Italian defence as Dorothy Wall, hugging the left touchline, ran over scrumhalf Sara Barattin, after Flood’s quick thinking created the mismatch.
There was a focus on how Brittany Hogan would perform after she dislodged former captain Claire Molloy. Hogan won an early penalty at the breakdown and after falling off a tackle on number eight Elisa Giordano and fumbling a lineout, she found her groove.
Still, Molloy’s exclusion from the matchday squad seemed like a mistake when Irish captain Ciara Griffin was forced off with a head injury on 13 minutes.
It is clear how Griggs’s team wants to play but they telegraph every play. They look in desperate need of more game time, at whatever level is permitted.
A reliable set piece is essential to what they are trying to do and it was a serious problem here as, after hitting it up once or twice, Flood seeks to bring Eimear Considine sprinting into the line, so the fullback can put her winger up the touchline.
That was the plan. Italy drifted across the pitch knowing they could not afford to give Murphy Crowe and Beibhinn Parsons a yard of space.
The strategy also requires fundamentals like catching and passing. Two aspects of Ireland’s play that malfunction far too often under pressure.
The leadership core suffered another loss on 20 minutes when Sene Naoupu was sin-binned for a high tackle on Ilaria Arrighetti. Referee Sara Cox and TMO Ian Tempest agreed that the Italian flanker dropped into the tackle so while it was “foul play” and “direct contact to the head,” Cox pulled out a yellow card.
The same act has led to red cards this season.
Seconds later it was confirmed that Griffin failed the HIA, meaning Ireland were down three leaders.
Flood stroked a penalty over just before Naoupu returned from the bin.
Defence won the opening 40 minutes, with Wall and Cliodhna Moloney the most aggressive tacklers, as Ireland dominated possession and territory only to lack the basic skills to turn chances into points.
Murphy Crowe showed what she can do early in the second half when Italy left a massive hole in their outhalf channel as Moloney found Hogan in the lineout before Wall’s pass gave the winger a chance to finish.
Moloney, the London Wasps hooker, scored next when she tapped a penalty and powered over.
Italy hooker Melissa Bettoni finally got the visitors on the scoreboard, but Murphy Crowe grabbed her second in injury-time of a contest that can only be filed in the instantly forgotten cabinet.
Scoring sequence – 8 mins: D Wall try, 5-0; 28 mins: S Flood pen, 8-0. Half-time. 43 mins: AL Murphy Crowe try, 13-0; S Flood con, 15-0; 51 mins: C Moloney try, 20-0; 68 mins: M Bettoni try, 20-5; AL Murphy Crowe try, 25-5.
Ireland: Eimear Considine; Amee-Leigh Murphy Crowe, Eve Higgins, Sene Naoupu, Beibhinn Parsons; Stacey Flood, Kathryn Dane; Lindsay Peat, Cliodhna Moloney, Linda Djougang; Aoife McDermott, Nichola Fryday; Dorothy Wall, Brittany Hogan, Ciara Griffin (capt). Replacements: Hannah O’Connor for C Griffin (13 mins, HIA), H Tyrrell for B Parsons (60 mins), G Moore for A McDermott, E Lane for K Dane (both 63 mins), N Jones for L Peat, L Feely for C Moloney, L Lyons for L Djougang (all 63 mins), E Breen for E Higgins (72 mins), E Higgins for E Considine (79 mins, inj).
Italy: Victory Ostuni Minuzzi; Manuela Furlan (capt), Michela Sillari, Beatrice Rigoni, Maria Magatti; Veronica Madia, Sara Barattin; Erika Skofca, Melissa Bettoni, Lucia Gai; Valeria Fedrighi, Giordana Duca; Ilaria Arrighetti, Francesca Sgorbini, Elisa Giordano. Replacements: S Stefan for S Barattin (48 mins), G Maris for E Skofca, S Tounesi for M Bettoni (both 63 mins), L Cammarano for F Sgorbini, A Muzzo for M Furlan (both 72 mins).
Referee: S Cox (RFU).