Wednesday 22 February 2017

New era gets off to flying start

Ireland Women 21 Wales Women 3

Published 08/02/2016 | 02:30

Paula Fitzpatrick is bloodied but unbowed as she celebrates after helping Ireland beat Wales at Donnybrook. Photo: Sportsfile
Paula Fitzpatrick is bloodied but unbowed as she celebrates after helping Ireland beat Wales at Donnybrook. Photo: Sportsfile
Elise O'Byrne White, Ireland, is tackled by Robyn Wilkins and Elinor Snowsil of Wales. Picture credit: Paul Mohan / Sportsfile

It was the dawning of a new era for women's rugby in this country and even though it felt just like that, it was the grit and determination of old that got Ireland's Six Nations title defence off to an ideal start in their new home surrounds in Donnybrook.

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The memories of floodlight failure in Ashbourne last season have been consigned to the past and now Ireland finally have a modern, accessible city base that is likely to build on the 3,250 who watched Wales crumble under the pressure exerted by the champions' dominant pack.

The sight of over 40 girls warming up on Donnybrook's back pitch before taking to the main pitch to play mini games at half-time illustrated the continuing growth of the sport.

"We're really looking forward to having a few games here," No 8 Heather O'Brien said afterwards as she turned her focus to France.

"We loved Ashbourne, it was a real home and the people were fantastic, but it feels really nice to be in Dublin. We can call it home now. It's great.

Danger

"We feel like we owe France one. They beat us last year when we won the Championship on points."

At times Ireland made it difficult for themselves but they were never in any real danger. For the 10 players who made their first Six Nations appearance, Saturday's experience will be priceless, especially before a difficult trip to France this weekend.

O'Brien and Paula Fitzpatrick, who played with a protective bandage on her nose, both recently joined Toulouse and the No 8 believes that their insight will help this week's preparations.

"We have a bit more of an understanding of how the French are going to play. It's a good insight to have.

"We probably have a more strategic game and ruck-focused game whereas they want more of an off-loading game. They consider rucks a death. But we see it as a platform and a launch pad."

Ireland's vastly experienced back-row suffocated Wales at the breakdown, which set the platform for the likes of Sene Naoupu in the backs to add a touch of flair.

The Kiwi who was celebrating her birthday, was outstanding throughout and her bone-shuddering hit set the tone early on. From there the players around her and the vocal supporters grew in confidence.

"The enthusiasm, the skill level, the defensive attributes that she brings, she's a quality player," Tierney said of Naoupu afterwards.

"We're playing her now at 12 in her best position. She's our second playmaker and we got glimpses of that. The try that she scored was very, very impressive. She's only going to get better. She's another who is learning and was a standout obviously."

Niamh Briggs' penalty cancelled out Robyn Wilkins' after a rare Welsh foray into Irish territory before Naoupu lit up the contest with a brilliant piece of individual skill midway through the first half.

Naoupu spotted a small gap in the Welsh line and she didn't need a second invitation to sprint clear from outside the 22 for a classy try that Briggs converted.

Sophie Spence, who also put in a big shift, finished off a sweeping move started by Briggs as Ireland went into the break 15-3 to the good.

Briggs added two further penalties in a second half that lacked the quality of the first but in truth, Wales didn't offer a threat and Ireland were at times brought down to their level.

Relieved

The game had long been won though and Tierney was relieved to get a win in what was Ireland's first game in Donnybrook since 2006.

"In fairness, the experienced girls were just here to do a job," the coach maintained.

"When they've got time to reflect on it, they'll see that the stand was pretty full and there was a lot of noise. It's just lovely to get a win for the first time that we're at home in a new stadium. It'll just help everyone going forward."

Ireland - N Briggs (capt); E O'Byrne-White, A Donnelly (J Shiels 69), S Naoupu, M Coyne; N Caughey (N Stapleton 60), L Muldoon (M Healy 78); A Egan (L Peat 75), Z Grattage (C Moloney 49), R O'Reilly (F Reidy 78); S Spence, M-L Reilly (C Cooney 69); P Fitzpatrick, C Molloy, H O'Brien (C Griffin 60).

Wales - A Taviner; E Evans (C Edwards 19-29) (D Hywel 69), K Lake (G Rowland 33), H Jones (E Snowsill 52), B Dainton; R Wilkins, K Bevan; A Evans (C Hale 77), C Phillips, M York (C Edwards 60); R Rowe (S Lillicrap 55), S Harries; R Taylor, S Williams, S Powell-Hughes (A Butchers 43).

ref - L Beard (USA).

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