Briggs gets Ireland off to a solid start against the US
Ireland 23 UNITED STATES 17
IRELAND are up and running at the Women's World Cup after edging a tense opening clash with the United States at Marcoussis.
Philip Doyle's charges won't have long to dwell on their win given that world champions New Zealand lie in wait on Tuesday but, having achieved their primary objective of getting four points, they may regret their inability to kick on from their two first-half tries and collect a bonus given they are likely to be in a race for the fourth semi-final spot at the end of the pool stages.
Still, winning was clearly the priority for Ireland against an American side who appeared to be chasing tries in the first half, turning down kickable penalties in an attempt to capitalise on their greater size.
In contrast, the 2013 Grand Slam winners placed their faith in the boot Niamh Briggs, who guided them through some tough moments during the early stages and finished with 18 points.
Briggs opened the scoring after just two minutes with a penalty after Sarah Walsh was harshly penalised at the ruck, but USA were soon on top, with openside Lynelle Kugler causing problems for the Irish defence.
A penalty conceded by Grace Davitt after a crunching Lynne Cantwell tackle gave USA the opening they needed as Kimber Rozier kicked to touch and, after the maul came up short, the fly-half fed Kugler, who easily stepped inside Davitt's attempted tackle to score.
Rozier converted, but Ireland responded with a second Briggs penalty after Claire Molloy charged down Kate Daley's box-kick and the American backline strayed offside.
The Americans were looking physically dominant, but they couldn't make their advantage pay as Coghlan brilliantly held up a lineout maul and forced an Irish scrum.
Ireland were struggling to break through a resolute defence, but the tide turned on the half-hour mark when American second-row Sarah Walsh saw yellow after one breakdown offence too many.
Briggs kicked to the corner and the forwards took over, with the maul going close before Sophie Spence carried to the line and tighthead prop Ailish Egan powered over with some help from Gillian Bourke.
Briggs converted and, although Molloy joined Walsh in the sin-bin after handling the ball in the ruck, Ireland continued to dominate as half-time approached.
And they managed to squeeze in a try on the whistle after Alison Miller and Briggs made the hard yards, before a couple of close-in carries got them close and Briggs surged over.
She converted her own try to give Ireland a 20-10 lead at the break, but that lasted just two minutes of the second period as American second-row Carmen Farmer stormed over and Rozier's conversion cut the deficit to three points.
Things got tense from there on in, as Doyle introduced Jenny Murphy with instant results as the Kildare centre made breaks with her first two touches that led to Briggs stretching the lead to six and USA replacement Shaina Turley heading for the sin-bin.
However, Ireland couldn't make their extra woman pay despite dominating possession.
Briggs pulled a drop-goal and penalty wide as she looked to put the result beyond doubt, but it wasn't to matter as they held on comfortably.
They face a step up in class on Tuesday in what will be their first meeting with the Black Ferns, but they go into it on a high.
IRELAND – N Briggs; A Baxter, L Cantwell, G Davitt (J Murphy 57), A Miller; N Stapleton, T Rosser (L Muldoon 76); F Coghlan (capt), G Bourke, A Egan; S Spence (L Guest 74), ML Reilly; S Fleming (P Fitzpatrick 57), C Molloy, H O'Brien.
UNITED STATES – M Blizer; V McGee, B Baravilala, E Bydwell, S Anderson, K Rozier, J Tseng (D Oswiany 68); H Rogers (S Wilson 72), K Augustyn (K Wagner 58), J Burke (S Chobot 54); C Farmer, S Walsh; J Potter, L Kugler (S Turley 54), K Daley (capt).
Ref – S Trumbull (Canada)