Monday 22 January 2018

Dramatic Briggs penalty gets Irish back on track

Ireland 11 England 8 (Women's Six Nations)

Ireland's Niamh Briggs celebrates with supporters after the game
Ireland's Niamh Briggs celebrates with supporters after the game
Nora Stapleton, Ireland, is tackled by Hannah Gallagher, England
Nora Stapleton, Ireland, is tackled by Hannah Gallagher, England

Niamh Briggs' late penalty proved to be the difference between the sides at Ashbourne RFC, as Ireland got their campaign back on track with only their second victory over England.

Although this was always going to be a must-win encounter for both teams, England's shock opening round loss to Wales ensuring that the tie had an even greater level of importance.

In the wake of Gary Street's surprise departure as England head coach, Nicky Ponsford was announced as an interim appointment.

He was in charge for the 13-0 Welsh defeat, as well as their facile triumph against Italy, before Simon Middleton - the present England Women's Sevens coach - was offered the job on a permanent basis.

However, Middleton won't be taking on his new role until the conclusion of the Women's Sevens World Series in May, so Ponsford will continue his temporary brief.

Ireland had made an encouraging start to the action last night, but out-half Katy McLean was presented with an ideal opportunity to open the scoring for the visitors from an 11th-minute penalty.

The Darlington star was off-target from her first kick at the posts, but after Irish skipper Briggs was deemed to have high-tackled on Alexandra Matthews from the subsequent attack, she made no mistake from close-range.

McLean was also wide of the mark with an audacious strike from long-distance, and when Briggs stepped up to the kicking tee on 25 minutes, she confidently restored parity to the tie.

However, in a game where every score was going to be vital, English No 8 Harriet Millar-Mills crossed for an unconverted try in stoppage-time to give the world champions an 8-3 interval advantage.

Considering how well the team has performed in adversity in recent seasons, this certainly wasn't an insurmountable deficit for the Ireland women.

Indeed, after establishing a foothold in the opposition '22' upon the resumption, they eventually broke the stern English resistance 50 minutes in.

The ever-impressive Alison Miller and Briggs almost found a way through on either flank, and courtesy of powerful work by the pack, scrum-half Larissa Muldoon applied the finishing touches to a lengthy move on the right-hand side.

Briggs was unsuccessful from a tricky conversion attempt, though, and moving into the final half-hour, the tie remained delicately poised.

With so much at stake, the fact that try-scoring opportunities were at a premium came as little surprise.

England did enjoy a dominant period of possession during the final quarter, but they received precious little leeway from a watertight Irish defence.

Ireland experienced the same difficulties when they ventured into enemy territory, but their relentless pressure ultimately led to Briggs' decisive injury-time three-pointer, which the Munster star converted with consummate ease.

There were some nervy moments for the hosts before their win was secured, but they can now embark on their remaining fixtures against Wales and Scotland (both away ties) with a large degree of confidence.

IRELAND - N Briggs; H Tyrrell, J Murphy, K Fitzhenry, A Miller; N Stapleton, L Muldoon (T Rosser 71); R O'Reilly (F Hayes 48), G Bourke, A Egan (F O'Brien 79); S Spence, ML Reilly; P Fitzpatrick, C Molloy, H O'Brien.

ENGLAND - L Cattell (H Field 79); R Laybourn (A Reed 76), A Brown, C Large, S Gregson (M Goddard 85); K McLean, B Blackburn (F Davidson 79); R Clark, V Fleetwood, L Keates; T Taylor, A Scott; A Matthews, H Gallagher, H Millar-Mills.

REF - L Berard (USA)

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