Irish women rue missed opportunity
England 13 Ireland 9
Ireland Women's coach Tom Tierney was left wondering what might have been as his side left Twickenham in defeat.
With England reduced to 14 women following the sin binning of Harriet Millar-Mills at the time of Ireland's greatest dominance, Tierney and his team would rightly have got the sniff of a win in the English capital.
However, it wasn't to be as Ireland failed to cross the try-line in the third quarter, left English territory without a point and were immediately hit with a sucker punch of a try from Abbie Scott.
Ireland never recovered from that setback and England held solid for their third win of the campaign, which looks to have set them up for a title decider against France in the final week. For Tierney and co, it is just regrets.
"We felt that at certain times of the game we had done enough to win, but unfortunately we are learning the hard way, not to be able to close out a game," said Tierney.
"That's the most disappointing thing: we were well on top at the start of that second half and we have a couple of opportunities close to the line that we didn't take.
"Unfortunately, we let them off the hook, for the next five minutes we really went on the back foot and gave them a very easy second try, which proved to be the winning score.
"We're very disappointed but we're very proud of the girls to come here and put in a tough and quality performance."
Considering the start that Ireland got off to, it was a wonder that they could have won this game at all.
An early penalty from Amber Reed was followed by a 21st-minute try from English hooker Emma Croker, which gave England an 8-0 lead.
At that point Ireland looked ragged. In attack they coughed up a lot of possession, were guilty of running the ball into touch, while their lineout also misfired on a couple of occasions.
There was no indication of the comeback that materialised.
But Ireland managed to finish the first half strongly as their more experienced players, Niamh Briggs and Claire Molloy in particular, began to gain a foothold in the game.
First up, Briggs closed the gap in the 35th minute from the tee, before she repeated that feat four minutes later when an English tackler failed to roll away.
Those two penalties meant Ireland only trailed 8-6 at the interval and they took the lead soon after the restart when Briggs kicked her third.
But their inability to cross the try-line cost Ireland dear.
Paula Fitzpatrick was twice stopped just short in one impressive Ireland move that swept from left to right, and Briggs was also denied a try when her quick tap penalty was called back by the referee.
And although Ireland left the win behind them, it would have been an unjust triumph against the dominant English, according to their skipper.
"At this level you just have to be accurate and we weren't that in the second half. And England deservedly punished us for that," Briggs said.
"But we have a lot of young girls here and they'll definitely learn from this and relish the opportunity to meet them again," the Ireland captain added.
England - K Mason; L Thompson (R Laybourn 72), L Cattell, C Large, L Clapp; A Reed, L T Mason (B Blackburn 40); R Clark ( H Kerr 78), E Croker (A Cokayne 61), V Cornborough (B Dawson 75); A Scott, E Braund; H Millar-Mills (T Taylor 68), I Noel-Smith (P Leitch 74), S Hunter (capt).
Ireland - N Briggs (capt) (J Shiels 74); E O'Byrne-White, A Donnelly, S Naoupu, M Coyne; N Stapleton (N Caughey 56), L Muldoon; R O'Reilly, C Moloney, A Egan; S Spence, M-L Reilly; C Griffin (H O'Brien 65), C Molloy, P Fitzpatrick (C Cooney 80).
Ref - A Nievas (Spain)