Ireland Women warm-up for Six Nations with victory over Wales
Adam Griggs’s side run in five tries to finally see off visitors
Ireland fullback Lauren Delany in action during the international friendly against Wales at Energia Park in Donnybrook. Photograph: Laszlo Geczo/Inpho
Ireland 29 Wales 19
The Ireland Women’s squad stepped up their preparations for the Six Nations Championship with a 29-19 triumph over Wales in an entertaining warm-up clash at Energia Park in Donnybrook on Sunday.
Ciara Griffin, Anna Caplice and Lauren Delany crossed over for tries for Adam Griggs’s side in the opening 40 minutes, before Laura Sheehan and Linda Djougang added their names to the scoresheet to stave off a spirited Wales fightback on the resumption.
While seven uncapped players were included the matchday squad of 27, Enya Breen was the only newcomer to feature in the starting line-up. In the absence of the experienced Sene Naoupu, who sat out the game along with international novice Claire Keohane, the UL Bohemian star partnered Michelle Claffey in the Irish midfield.
Ireland enjoyed a commanding Six Nations victory over Wales in the same venue last spring and they dominated possession during the early moments of this contest. Following a series of well-structured attacking phases, outhalf Ellen Murphy released Megan Williams in space on the right flank.
The Old Belvedere wing was held up just short of the line, only for skipper Griffin to peel off the resulting five-metre scrum for a powerful drive over the whitewash.
Claffey’s subsequent touchline conversion floated short of the target, but Ireland continued to pile the pressure on their Celtic neighbours. Fullback Delany – who made her Test bow against the USA in November – made a lung-bursting line break to re-establish territory for the hosts.
This eventually culminated in their second try of the day on 15 minutes with Richmond flanker Caplice applying the finishing touches in the right corner to round off an elongated move.
Despite falling 10 points adrift as a result of this unconverted effort, Wales responded in confident fashion. Cardiff Blues outhalf Robyn Wilkins kicked a penalty to touch, bringing the visiting side into the opposition ‘22’ for the very first time.
The subsequent lineout maul edged them towards the Irish line, where hooker Kelsey Jones was on hand to dot down in comprehensive style. Wilkins’s conversion brought Wales within touching distance of their near rivals on the first-quarter mark.
However, this only served as a temporary release against an Ireland side that were eager to hit the ground running in 2019. Murphy, Claffey and Breen were heavily involved in the build-up to Delany’s 22nd-minute try – the Firwood Waterloo speedster jinking past a covering tackle to claim another eye-catching score.
Without necessarily cutting loose, Ireland expertly controlled the tempo of the play as the interval approached. Scrumhalf Ailsa Hughes found space on the left wing only to be halted just shy of the Welsh tryline and Griffin was also held up in the latter stages of the half.
Alison Miller was making a welcome return on the left wing – 11 months on from her last appearance in green. Her elaborate pass looked set to present Delany with a second try, but her offload was ultimately ruled to have gone forward.
Nevertheless, Ireland had more than enough reason to be content with a 15-7 interval cushion. The final outcome was far from set in stone, though, and Wales heightened the tension courtesy of a blistering start to the second period.
Inside the opening minute of the restart, winger Jasmine Joyce got on the end of a sweeping counter move to grab Wales’ second try. In spite of Wilkins’s wayward conversion, Wales quickly turned the tables on Ireland to create a buffer of their own.
After Williams’s attempted clearance out of defence was charged down, the alert Joyce claimed her second touchdown in the space of six minutes. Wilkins split the uprights to supplement her latest contribution, providing Wales with a 19-15 lead in the process.
Ireland were struggling to replicate the fine form they displayed prior to the interval, though they soon regained their composure with a patient spell of possession in midfield. This preceded the introduction of six players off the bench in the 56th-minute – the ever-dependable Claire Molloy joining a raft of fresh faces in a game that remained firmly in the balance.
Having found themselves under the cosh in the initial stages of the half, Ireland were beginning to dictate the terms of engagement once more. A rolling maul on the right almost produced dividends just past the hour mark, before a fourth try eventually arrived on 64 minutes.
Nicole Fowley’s superbly-weighted cross-field pass made its way out towards the left wing, where fellow replacement Sheehan was left with a simple five-point finish. Fowley then stepped up to the kicking tee and made light of an awkward angle to lift Ireland into a 22-19 advantage.
This was a major momentum swing for the home side and they effectively placed the outcome beyond doubt with nine minutes remaining on the clock. Just as the Welsh had done in the opening half, Ireland used a lineout maul on the left flank to telling effect.
The physicality of their pack proved too much for Wales, with Djougang and Fowley ensuring Ireland got the maximum return off this set-piece manoeuvre. Although they came close to a sixth try in the closing minutes, this was a satisfactory day’s work overall for the squad ahead of the daunting home encounter with England on Friday week.
IRELAND WOMEN: Lauren Delany (Firwood Waterloo Ladies/IQ Rugby); Megan Williams (Old Belvedere/Leinster), Enya Breen (UL Bohemians/Munster), Michelle Claffey (Blackrock/Leinster), Alison Miller (Old Belvedere/Connacht); Ellen Murphy (Old Belvedere/Leinster), Ailsa Hughes (Railway Union/Leinster); Laura Feely (Galwegians/Connacht), Leah Lyons (Harlequins), Fiona Reidy (UL Bohemians/Munster); Aoife McDermott (Railway Union/Leinster), Nichola Fryday (Galwegians/Connacht); Anna Caplice (Richmond), Juliet Short (Railway Union/Leinster), Ciara Griffin (UL Bohemians/Munster) (capt).
Replacements used: Linda Djougang (Old Belvedere/Leinster), Emma Hooban (St Mary’s/Leinster), Anne Marie O’Hora (Galwegians/Connacht), Hannah O’Connor (Blackrock/Leinster), Claire Boles (Railway Union/Ulster), Claire Molloy (Wasps), Claire McLaughlin (Old Belvedere/Ulster), Kathryn Dane (Old Belvedere/Ulster), Nicole Fowley (Galwegians/Connacht), Laura Sheehan (UL Bohemians/Munster), Ailbhe Dowling (Old Belvedere/Leinster), Eimear Considine (UL Bohemians/Munster).
WALES WOMEN: Lisa Neumann (RGC/Firwood Waterloo Ladies); Jasmine Joyce (Scarlets/Worcester), Hannah Jones (Scarlets/Gloucester), Lleucu George (Scarlets/Whitland), Caitlin Lewis (Scarlets); Robyn Wilkins (Cardiff Blues), Ffion Lewis (Scarlets/Worcester Valkyries); Cara Hope (Ospreys/Swansea), Kelsey Jones (Ospreys/Gloucester Hartpury), Cerys Hale (Dragons/Worcester); Natalia John (Ospreys/Swansea), Mel Clay (Ospreys/Pontyclun); Alex Callender (Scarlets/Worcester Vakyries), Manon Johnes (Cardiff Blues/Cardiff Quins), Siwan Lillicrap (Ospreys/Swansea).
Replacements used: Carys Phillips (Ospreys/Swansea), Amy Evans (Ospreys/Swansea), Caryl Thomas (Dragons/Bristol Bears), Bethan Lewis (Dragons/Gloucester Hartpury), Sioned Harries (Scarlets/Worcester), Jess Kavanagh (RGC/Caernarfon), Alisha Butchers (Scarlets/Worcester), Keira Bevan (Ospreys/Swansea), Elinor Snowsill (Dragons/Bristol Bears), Lauren Smyth (Ospreys).
Referee: Andrew Cole (IRFU)