Wednesday 28 September 2016

Naoupu leads Irish charge as Connacht quartet shine

Published 12/02/2016 | 02:30

Sene Naoupu is tackled by Kerin Lake of Wales in Donnybrook
Sene Naoupu is tackled by Kerin Lake of Wales in Donnybrook

The Connacht trio of Sene Naoupu, Mairead Coyne and Ruth O'Reilly were all part of the Irish Women's XV which took on Wales last weekend, while Galwegian Mary Healy also came off the bench to help Ireland earn a 21-3 victory.

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First-half tries from Naoupu and Sophie Spence laid the foundations as the Ireland Women began the defence of their RBS Six Nations crown with a well-judged victory.

Ireland suffered a 15-5 loss to their Welsh opponents in an uncapped warm-up match in Caerphilly last month, but on the back of five consecutive competitive victories over Wales, Tom Tierney's charges were hoping to extend that winning run at their new Dublin 4 venue.

With a vocal 3,252-strong crowd in attendance, anticipation was nevertheless high for this opening round clash, but following neat interplay inside the Irish 22, Wales hit the front thanks to a fourth-minute penalty from out-half Robyn Wilkins. The reliable Briggs quickly responded from a routine place-kick on the 22-metre line, rewarding powerhouse flanker Paula Fitzpatrick for her work at the breakdown.

Ireland proceeded to dominate the remainder of the first half, although they did find it difficult at times to secure their own lineout with hooker Zoe Grattage having some issues with a testing wind.

Persistence

Ireland's persistence finally paid off in the 25th minute. Connacht centre Naoupu benefited from a midfield block by Aine Donnelly to race through from around 30 metres out for an outstanding individual try. Briggs converted to the right of the posts for a 10-3 lead after an edgy start to the contest.

Four minutes before half-time, a lovely move out to the left wing saw Briggs burst through a gap and combine with Mairead Coyne. Naoupu was up in support to take the pass and a final surge from Spence saw her crash over in the corner. Briggs' well-struck conversion attempt came back off the right-hand post, leaving it 15-3 at the turnaround.

The Ireland skipper sent over a second successful penalty just four minutes into the second period. New cap Griffin made an immediate impact with a ruck steal, while Briggs' 64th-minute penalty, following an earlier miss, ensured that Ireland kept the scoreboard ticking over.

Tierney and his coaches will have been frustrated with the team's poor execution in attacking situations late on, as two mauls were stopped short and Mary Healy was subsequently turned over in contact.

A solid start, but plenty to do ahead of tomorrow night's crunch clash with France in Perpignan.

Irish Independent

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