Ireland Women’s Grand Slam dream was crushed by England but they will wonder what might have been after pushing the world champions for an hour.
In the end, England’s experience told but the scoreline didn’t reflect the home side’s tireless efforts.
The margins are small at the highest level and when Ireland reflect on this defeat, they will realise that there was plenty to take before the World Cup is held on these shores in August.
England are a fully professional outfit but at times it looked the other way around as Ireland packed a serious punch up front.
Ireland trailed by just five points at the break but they had no answer to a second half blitz, with a yellow card certainly not helping their plight.
England came flying out of the traps, desperate to make an immediate impression but Ireland’s scramble defence kept the visitors out.
Hannah Tyrrell had to be alert when she stopped a certain try with a great tackle on the dangerous Kay Wilson who helped herself to seven tries last weekend.
The warning signs were glaring and England’s pressure eventually told after 16 minutes. Emily Scarratt had missed a penalty to put her side into the lead but she atoned for her wayward shot at goal shortly after when she floated a perfect pass into the path of Amy Wilson Hardy who scored in the corner.
The weather conditions didn’t help either side with handling errors aplenty but Ireland slowly began to play their way into the contest.
Alison Miller who was excellent all evening broke clear down the right with to give Ireland some much needed relief. Claire Molloy was typically industrious at the breakdown and she forced a crucial 23rd minute penalty to really spark her side into life.
Suddenly it was the world champions who were making the sloppy errors and when Maz Reilly who won her 50th cap, brilliantly stole a lineout as a loud roar went up amongst the 6,105 inside Donnybrook.
Jenny Murphy’s crunching tackle in midfield won Ireland another penalty as it was their turn to ramp up the pressure. With three minutes left in the half, Ireland had the chance to put points on the board but they opted for the corner.
It was a brave call and one that almost paid off but Sene Naoupu was just stopped short of the line. Ireland picked and went from the resulting breakdown and they thought they scored a try but the referee had other ideas and said that the ball was held up.
Next it was captain Paula Fitzpatrick’s turn to go close as she peeled off the back of the scrum but again Ireland couldn’t find a way over as they trailed 5-0 at the break.
There were plenty of positives for Tom Tierney to take, particularly up front where his side dominated. The maul was getting plenty of joy while the scrum was a potent weapon.
England immediately responded to that dominance as they replaced both of their props at the break, but it made little difference early on as Ireland continued in the ascendency.
Murphy’s 47th minute break cut the English defence to shreds but she might have passed out wide to Tyrrell who had a clear space in front of her to the try line.
It was a let off for the visitors and they struck for the killer blow seven minutes later. On England’s first trip into the Ireland half in the second half, they clinically came away with points as replacement Laura Keates got over after the Ireland defence was stretched,
Scarratt’s conversion came back off the post but nevertheless it left Ireland in with a chance. They needed an immediate response but they got the opposite when replacement Mairead Coyne was sent to the sin bin for a deliberate knock on.
It was the correct call as Ireland were again left exposed by a searing Scarratt break. The talented centre compounded the yellow card by slotting the resulting penalty as England tuned the screw.
It took England just two minutes to make their numerical advantage count as they capitalised on a poor kick and Amy Cokayne showed a clean pair of heels to score. Scarratt was again on target with the conversion to push England into a 20-0 lead.
Ireland were still down a player but they refused to lie down however and they were rewarded for their efforts when hooker Leah Lyons who has had an excellent championship, powered her way over with 14 minutes left on the clock.
Tyrrell added the extras to give the hosts hope of mounting what would have been a stunning comeback but the hope was short-lived as Scarratt ran in England’s fourth try two minutes later. The centre added to easy extras for a 20-point lead.
There was no let up from England as Lydia Thompson rubbed salt in the wounds with a fifth try that Scarratt again converted.
It was a cruel end to Ireland’s Six Nations who must quickly pick themselves up again for the World Cup.
Ireland Women – K Flood (M Coyne 52); H Tyrrell, J Murphy, S Naoupu, A Miller; N Stapleton (N Caughey 62), L Muldoon (M Healy, 44), L Peat (I Van Staden 62), L Lyons (C O’Conno 70), A Egan (R O’Reilly 62); S Spence, M-L Reilly; C Griffin (N Fryday 70), C Molloy (C Cooney 51), P Fitzpatrick (capt).
England Women – D Waterman; A Wilson Hardy, E Scarratt, A Reed, K Wilson (L Thompson 70); E Scott (R Burford h/t1), LT Mason (B Blackburn 67); R Clark (V Cornborough h/t), A Cokayne (67), J Lucas (L Keates h/t); T Taylor, H Millar-Mills; A Matthews (P Cleall 51-55, 69), M Packer, S Hunter (capt).
Ref – A Nievas (Spain)