Ireland shine in adversity as World Cup gets off to a thriller
3,500 fill the UCD Bowl to see tournament hosts battle their way to Australia win
Paula Fitzpatrick celebrates Ireland’s opening World Cup win over Australia. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho
Aligned with Canada’s 98-0 win over Hong Kong, it seemed almost premature for Ireland to face into a physically brutal contest on which their tournament prospects would hinge.
But with evening shadows slanting down the Belfield Bowl and a blindingly low sun for Australian fullback Samantha Treheme, so the women’s World Cup quickened a step and burst to life.
And they played like they believed it, the opening 15 minutes all about their nuggety aggression and a selfless work rate that pushed Ireland into their own 22.
For those moments the home crowd stayed silent, 3,500 fans eager for something to encourage them lift from their seats and Australian notions of an early upset remaining alive.
A try from Irish scrumhalf Clarissa Muldoon and a reply from the flying left wing Mahalia Murphy only heightened the suspense, the ball falling from the tee just as Australia attempted to convert sending a frisson of relief and maybe a signal that the gods were with Ireland.
But it was a game of tackling and of collisions, of pick and go and maybe too Australia growing into it, their big forwards punching through and outside centre Kayla Sauvao drawing desperate tackles from the Irish defence.
The crowd rose to cheer their side into the break 7-5 ahead with the claps as much about as encouragement as anything, gossamer holding the Irish lead intact.
Shannon Parry, their Rio gold star, then silenced The Bowl as she emerged from a heap of bodies on the Irish line with a smile on her face, a lone Aussie fan standing up to scream her approval from under the stand
Maybe the scent of defeat was what Ireland craved. Maybe the fear of their home event unspindling in the first match grew them wings, nourished spirits.
It seemed enough. It was enough. The closing gripping minutes was dangerous living with another Australian try. But it was about Irish bodies and committed tackling, the final whistle bringing an eruption of noise, exhausted players collapsing around the ground.
That was a tough match the Australians really put it to us. We really met a physical side,” said Irish captain Claire Molloy.
“I’m really proud of the grit our girls showed. We were really under the cosh a bit at the start of the second half then we really rose our game. We won those collisions and won those tries at the end. It’s a really exciting start to the tournament and one from one.
“The resilience of the girls... we just knew if we hung in there we would get up into their half and create those scoring opportunities.”
Should you have won the match, Australian captain Shannon Parry was asked.
“I don’t think we should have,” she said. “We were a little short today. We played five Test matches in the last four years. I think we can take a lot away from that.”
The hosts remain alive, inflated by the character they revealed. An opening day to remember. Ireland move forward emboldened.