Friday 31 October 2014

Tony Ward: Defeat can't undo what Doyle's heroines have done for women's sport

Published 14/08/2014 | 00:00

Niamh Briggs is tackled by Emily Scarratt in Ireland's Women's Rugby World Cup semi-final defeat to England in Paris. Photo: Brendan Moran / SPORTSFILE
Niamh Briggs is tackled by Emily Scarratt in Ireland's Women's Rugby World Cup semi-final defeat to England in Paris. Photo: Brendan Moran / SPORTSFILE
Ireland's Alison Miller is tackled by Danielle Waterman of England during the Women's Rugby World Cup semi-final in Paris. Photo: Brendan Moran / SPORTSFILE
Ireland's Alison Miller is tackled by Danielle Waterman of England during the Women's Rugby World Cup semi-final in Paris. Photo: Brendan Moran / SPORTSFILE
Ireland captain Fiona Coghlan rallies her heroic teammates after their Women's Rugby World Cup semi-final defeat to England in Paris. Photo: Brendan Moran / SPORTSFILE
Ireland captain Fiona Coghlan rallies her heroic teammates after their Women's Rugby World Cup semi-final defeat to England in Paris. Photo: Brendan Moran / SPORTSFILE

Naturally no one was saying it in advance, but drawing England at the penultimate stage in this ground-breaking World Cup represented the draw from hell. And so it came to pass.

Beating England, even minus their Sevens contingent, at Ashbourne in 2013 was massive, but back at full strength, fully focused on revenge and geared for outright success, this was always loaded with the potential to be an Ireland game too far.

Fiona Coghlan's green-clad warriors gave it their best shot but were playing catch-up rugby much too early and from far too deep for there to be anything but one painful outcome.

Much though we would like to suggest the final score flattered England, but on this occasion the margin of victory reflected the game.

Back-foot rugby is difficult at any time but when you give England a licence to run, you are in deep trouble.

The English forwards laid the groundwork but in Danielle Waterman, Kat Merchant and particularly Emily Scarratt they possessed the type of cutting edge fuelled on liberal possession about which Philip Doyle's hugely committed side could only dream.

They defended for all they were worth but as a trickle of defensive gaps became a stream the tide flowed increasingly one way.

Minds were willing but bodies no longer able.

It was around the half-hour mark when a couple of dominant English scrums signalled the turning point physically and psychologically.

And if ever the adage of forwards winning games but backs determining how much applied, this was it. Ireland were brave to a fault, with Marie Louise Reilly doing her stuff out of touch while Paula Fitzpatrick and Claire Molloy gave it everything at the largely one-sided breakdown.

The confidence bubble so prominent against New Zealand became increasingly deflated as on this massive occasion the Irish girls worked off scraps.

Lynne Cantwell was in the firing line more than most given the sorties of Waterman and Scarratt down that outside channel and her never-say-die attitude reflected where this squad is at.

To lose by such a margin at this stage in the competition is a massive blow - let's not pretend otherwise - but what has been achieved at this World Cup for women's rugby and for female sport in this country has not been lost on the back of one disappointing result courtesy of a supercharged England display.

Beating the Black Ferns was every bit as great as the subsequent global publicity suggests - here was an Irish rugby side outclassing a New Zealand side much more convincingly than the final scoreline would have you believe.

Greatest

Winning the Grand Slam in 2013 was a hugely significant step along the way but beating the greatest rugby nation on Earth at this World Cup represented the coming of age for the women's game in Ireland. The ripple effect will be massive. Between this and the upcoming Women's Sevens in Rio, watch the female version of the oval ball rocket from here.

Doyle, Greg McWilliam, Peter Bracken, Coghlan, Niamh Briggs, Alison Miller, Tania Rosser and the rest cannot be praised highly enough for what they have achieved.

Yes they came up short in Paris but that should not detract one iota from what it had taken to get to that stage.

In a few short years Doyle has transformed the female game but even more, he and this tight-knit, self-believing group have transformed the attitude of the nation towards women's sport and to rugby in particular.

Top four at RWC 2014 is massive but there is still a bronze up for grabs. Come on the girls in green.

Irish Independent

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