Scotland 15 Ireland 22
Well, that should dampen expectations. Under a constant downpour in icy conditions Ireland escaped, and there is no other word for it, thanks to the latest possible try by Jenny Murphy. And, remarkably, they also secured a bonus-point victory.
"I've played in games like that where anything that could go wrong does go wrong," said Ireland coach Tom Tierney, who won eight caps himself including in the 1999 World Cup. "But to still come out with five points is slightly embarrassing. We'll take that. Huge improvement needed next week because if we play like that in Italy we will come away with nothing."
Murphy, absent from the Irish midfield for almost two years due to injury, ran the first straight line of the match in a truly abysmal Irish performance to power under the crossbar well after the 80 minute mark. That was enough to see off a wasteful and inaccurate Scottish side.
Briggs, still nursing hamstring problems, is some way off a return and the lack of a place-kicker or anyone capable of finding her distance with the boot heaped enormous pressure on the Irish defence. “Especially between our 22 and the halfway line we were bogged down there,” Tierney conceded.
Add that to an inability to put more than three phrases together, before dropping the ball, and really their championship aspirations should no longer exist. But Scotland could not make them pay. Initially they used number eight Jade Konkel, the SRU's first and seemingly only professional female player, to good use. Konkel exposed some weak close in Irish defending with a try after four minutes that was mirrored when she crossed again in the 30th minute.
Sarah Law’s penalty seven minutes later gave the Scots a 15-10 half-time lead.
Ireland, led in Briggs' absence by the industrious Paula Fitzpatrick, had crossed for two tries after Sene Naoupu, now playing her rugby in England after husband George left Connacht for Harlequins, finished off a strong run by Ali Miller. The Laois winger crossed the line herself on 22 minutes after a fine pass by debut scrumhalf Ailsa Hughes.
Both scores were finished in the left corner so Nora Stapleton struggled to find the necessary distance off the tee.
One obvious bright spark was Hughes. The Railway Union scrumhalf’s range of passing should continue to bring a new dimension to the Irish attack. The pack got their act together with a lineout drive on 51 minutes allowing Lindsay Peat to level matters during a period that also saw Konkel sin-binned.
Ireland failed to capitalise on the numerical advantage. But Scotland, with Law and then outhalf Helen Nelson missing simple enough penalties, failed to put the game out of Ireland’s reach. Somehow, from what looked like resilience alone, memory muscle even, they found a way, via Murphy, to win. “We didn’t make it easy for ourselves but we came away with the five points so that box is ticked,” said a very relieved Murphy.
Some more positivity was that Sophie Spence, like Briggs a former nominee for world player of the year, might make a long-awaited return from injury against Italy. “Fingers crossed,” added Tierney, “Hopefully next week.”
This team needs a dramatic improvement that in some quarters only Spence and Briggs can supply.
SCOTLAND: C Rollie; M Gaffney, L Thomson, L Martin, R Lloyd; H Nelson, S Law; T Balmer, R Malcolm, L Smith; E Wassell, D McCormack; K Dunbar, L McMillan, J Konkel.
Replacements: L Park for R Malcolm (37 mins), K Dougan for L Smith (60-62 mins), J Maxwell for S Law, S Bonar for E Wassell (all 62 mins), H Lockhart for T Balmer (66 mins).
IRELAND: M Coyne; N Kavanagh, J Murphy, S Naoupu, A Miller; N Stapleton, A Hughes; L Peat, L Lyons, A Egan; O Fitzsimons, M-L Reilly; C Griffin, C Molloy, P Fitzpatrick (capt).
Replacements: E Considine for N Kavanagh, E Anthony for O Fitzsimons (both half-time), M Healy for A Hughes (68 mins), J Finlay for L Lyons, I van Staden for L Peat, C O'Connor for A Egan (all 71 mins).
Referee: Aimee Barrett-Theron (South Africa).