Tears in Parma as Ireland’s loss to Scotland leaves World Cup dreams in tatters

Defeat marks a low point for Irish women’s rugby

All smiles at Thomond Park and the Aviva Stadium, not least a beaming Simon Zebo after his two-try return, as both Munster and Leinster completed entertaining bonus-point wins over the Sharks and the Bulls in the United Rugby Championship.

But it was all tears in the Stadio Sergio Lanfranchi in Parma for the Irish women's team after their dreams of qualifying for the 2022 World Cup in New Zealand ended with a 20-18 defeat at the hands of Scotland.

A try with the last play of the match by winger Chloe Rollie and the conversion by replacement outhalf Sarah Law with the last kick of the European qualifying tournament earned Scotland a place in the repechage against Samoa, Colombia and an Asian qualifier. Scotland will be warm favourites to advance to New Zealand.

The 20-18 defeat was a heartbreaking blow for the squad and marks a low point for Irish women's rugby, as well as a damaging night for head coach Adam Griggs, the IRFU and the performance director David Nuicfora, as the sport in this country misses out on the exposure which would have ensued from competing in the World Cup.


Ireland should not be losing to Scotland, and certainly not to Spain, who beat Ireland 8-7 in the opening round before ultimately finishing bottom after Italy secured a bonus-point 34-10 win over them earlier in the day.

That secured automatic qualification for Italy, although in a cart-before-the-horse performance Ireland appeared to be chasing the bonus point from the off rather than the win (or draw) that would have earned a place in the repechage.

The failed campaign probably means there will be no more World Cups for the remarkable Lindsay Peat or the last two links with the 2013 Grand Slam, 2014 World Cup semi-final – after beating New Zealand – and the 2015 Six Nations title, Sene Naoupu and Claire Molloy, after brilliant careers.

"It's devastating," said Fiona Coghlan, the Grand Slam-winning captain, on RTÉ in the demoralising moments after the full-time whistle. "Obviously devastating for Irish rugby. What do you say? A competition that you were going in as favourites, you slip up in the first game, you recover in the second, you go into this game as favourites and you have to credit Scotland, they fought us to the bitter end and it's a killer blow.

“It’s a low point for Irish rugby. The 2017 World Cup was a low point in Irish rugby, we’ve reached an even lower now by not going forward to the next World Cup.”

As those events were unfolding, a highly motivated Leinster were on course for an impressive first outing in the URC, the Pro14 four-in-a-row champions beating the Bulls, who retained their Currie Cup crown a fortnight ago, by 31-3.

Munster, the Pro14 runners-up, followed that up with a six tries to two, 42-17 win over the Sharks, beaten finalists in the Currie Cup.

Yet there was enough in both of the performances by the South African franchises to suggest they will be competitive in the rebranded competition. Leo Cullen admitted that the scoreline did not reflect the contest, attended by 19,419.

Noting that the Bulls would have celebrated their Currie Cup success and had time off before travelling to Europe, Cullen said: "I wouldn't say it was easy. You look at some of our players and they are pretty exhausted in the dressingroom after it and they were pretty exhausted if you looked at them at different stages of the game as well.

“There was a big swing just before half-time when we managed to hold them out and gave away a few penalties and we rode our luck a bit, so I don’t think the score really reflected the game. I wouldn’t be underestimating the Bulls in the future. They are a very dangerous team.”

Allowances also had to made for home advantage, especially given the travel distance.

"It's so strange for some of their guys travelling here, a lot of them for the first time," said Cullen. "We got that when we played the Cheetahs the first time we went to Bloemfontein, " he added, in reference to a 38-19 defeat in September 2017. "I've never been to Pretoria myself but from what I gather it's an intimidating atmosphere and particularly when they have supporters back."

Gerry Thornley

Gerry Thornley

Gerry Thornley is Rugby Correspondent of The Irish Times