Monday 11 December 2017

Top that, Johnny: Irish women stun Kiwis with first win

Ireland’s Ashleigh Baxter, Vikki McGinn and Lynne Cantwell celebrate after their Women’s Rugby World Cup victory over New Zealand last night. Photo: Inpho
Ireland’s Ashleigh Baxter, Vikki McGinn and Lynne Cantwell celebrate after their Women’s Rugby World Cup victory over New Zealand last night. Photo: Inpho
Ireland out-half Jonathan Sexton with son Luca, wife Laura and Ireland head coach Joe Schmidt at the match in Marcoussis, outside Paris
Ashleigh Baxter, Ailis Egan and Vicky McGinn celebrate victory
Niamh Briggs in action against New Zealand
Mark O'Regan

Mark O'Regan

The Irish women's rugby team have shown their male counterparts how to beat New Zealand - with a ground-breaking win over the world champions.

The side are now on course for what could be undreamed of World Cup glory, after the unexpected and historic 17-14 win.

Over a century of games, despite some near misses - and some Herculean battles - the Irish men's rugby team have yet to better the All-Blacks and lost out agonisingly 24-22 at the Aviva Stadium in November.

Ireland's men's coach Joe Schmidt - and star out-half Johnny Sexton, accompanied by his wife Laura and baby son Luca - were on head in Marcoussis, outside Paris, to cheer the Irish women to victory.

Afterward, Ireland captain Fiona Coghlan said: "We knew we had the ability in the team, it was just about being consistent for the 80 minutes and we were.

"It's huge; they're the top of the world. That's where we said we wanted to be. We're not there yet, this is only step two of the process, but we're on the right track."

One of the Irish stars was Niamh Briggs, who put in an outstanding place kicking performance, notching up crucial scores as the game ebbed and flowed.

Tries by Heather O'Brien and Alison Miller also came at crucial moments in a fiercely fought contest.

The pundits gave Ireland - the 2013 Grand Slam champions - very little chance before they confronted their New Zealand counterparts.

The southern hemisphere giants were looking for their fifth world title in a row.

And last night, Twitter was buzzing with congratulations from some of the stars of our men's rugby team.

"What a win for the Irish ladies. Awesome performance and result," tweeted Tommy Bowe.

"Incredible stuff from Ireland. A special mention to Niamh Briggs. She was outstanding," enthused Rob Kearney.

"That's just made me emotional," said Cian Healy.

A particular feature of the Irish team performance was that they rigidly stuck to their game plan, remaining disciplined and focussed throughout.

For their part, New Zealand were forced into making a number of crucial errors.

A vital Briggs penalty put Ireland in front with 10 minutes to go - and the girls in green doggedly held their line despite fierce pressure from the Black Ferns.

The victory is likely to push Irish women's rugby into the sporting mainstream.

If the team secures an expected victory over Kazakhstan on Saturday they will be in the World Cup semi-finals.

See Sport, Pages 64-65, 68

Irish Independent

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