Spain 8 Ireland 7
The Rugby World Cup dreams of the Ireland women's team hang in the balance after they suffered a shock one-point defeat to Spain in their qualification opener at Stadio Sergio Lanfranchi in Parma on Monday night.
Leading 7-3 at the break courtesy of Beibhinn Parsons's ninth-minute try, Adam Griggs's side came unstuck when Spanish replacement Lea Ducher touched down in the left corner with eight minutes remaining .
This result means Ireland will have to win their final two games against Italy and Scotland to have any hope of reaching next year’s finals in New Zealand.
Having rattled the post off her first shot at goal, Exeter Chiefs scrumhalf Patricia Garcia got Spain up and running with a seventh-minute penalty.
It proved to be a short-lived lead, however, as Ireland pounced for a try a little over 60 seconds later. After Aoife McDermott expertly gathered Cliodhna Moloney's set-piece throw, Dorothy Wall and Sene Naoupu carried forcefully into the Spanish 22.
The ball was eventually worked out wide towards Parsons, who jinked past opposition fullback Iera Echebarria for her sixth international try. Stacey Flood added the extras to this five-pointer and Ireland were expected to push on from there.
Yet, a surge didn't materialise in the remaining minutes of the opening period with a host of basic errors continuously halting their momentum. Moloney was close to crashing over on 36 minutes, but TMO Andrea Piardi ruled that she had been held up beyond the whitewash.
Ireland finally looked set to extend their cushion when Flood released Amee-Leigh Murphy Crowe for a run over the line on the resumption, only for Piardi to once again intervene for a Kathryn Dane knock-on in the lead-up to this move.
While Ireland were on top of possession for the rest of the third quarter, the diligence of the Spanish defence ensured they were left frustrated time and time again.
Indeed, the closer it came to the final whistle, the more Spain believed a major scalp was within their reach. A push for the line on 67 minutes led to the sin-binning of Irish debutant Sam Monaghan and José Antonio Barrio's outfit utilised the additional space to put Ducher through for a game-changing score.
A wayward Garcia bonus strike left the door open for Ireland but, after Enya Breen fell short from a last-minute penalty, they were consigned to a morale-sapping defeat.
SCORERS – Spain: L Ducher try, P Garcia con. Ireland: B Parsons try, S Flood con.
IRELAND: E Considine; A-L Murphy Crowe, L Mulhall, S Naoupu, B Parsons; S Flood, K Dane; L Peat, C Moloney, L Djougang; A McDermott, N Fryday; D Wall, C Griffin, B Hogan.
Replacements: S Monaghan for McDermott (52 mins), L Delany for Parson, E McMahon for Hogan (both 54 mins), E Breen for Flood (56 mins), N Jones for Moloney, L Feely for Peat, L Lyons for Djougang (all 66 mins), E Lane for Naoupu (74 mins).
SPAIN: I Echebarria; B Dominguez, A Erbina, A Argudo, M Garcia; A Fernandez de Corres, P Garcia; S Jaurena, M Rodriguez, L Delgado; A Puig, M Castelo; O Fresneda, M Calvo, L Alameda.
Replacements: I Rico for Jaurena (47 mins), C Castellucci for Castelo (55 mins), L Ducher for Echebarria (61 mins), M Brust for Delgado (65 mins), E Aguirre for Argudo (68 mins), C Blanco for Rodriguez (73 mins).
Referee: N O'Donnell (England).