It was an early morning flight to Gatwick, train to Guildford, just about making the kick off for the Ireland v Scotland 7th Place Playoff in the excellent IRB 2010 Women’s Rugby World Cup.
Grabbed my photographers bib, ignored the sniggers of the “pros” at my tiny instamatic and plonked myself on the left hand side facing Ireland’s right wing and waited for Ulster’s Golden Girl Eliza Downey to run in the scores.
It doesn’t often happen this way, but run them in she did with the Downster grabbing a brace, quickly followed by the excellent Niamh Briggs doing the same.
It was an impressive display from Ireland in this final game. Having narrowly failed to qualify for a top four finish the players were disappointed and frustrated with their dramatic reversal to the USA in the playoffs. That was a game where it just didn’t happen for them.
They bounced back in some style in this one as Briggs knocked over an early penalty before a sweeping move from the forwards sent Downey clear on the ninth minute. Still with a bit to do, Downey wrongfooted the oncoming defence to go over in the corner to give Ireland an 8 – 0 lead.
Almost from the restart Briggs blasted through the Scottish defence to run in Ireland’s second try under the posts which she converted to give Ireland a 15 – 0 lead.
Scotland hit back with an unconverted try from Donna Kennedy at the end of the first quarter and they put Ireland under plenty of pressure for the remainder of the half. However, a penalty from Nicola Halfpenny was the only score in the second quarter as Scotland brought it back to 15 – 8 in Ireland’s favour as the teams changed ends.
Ireland came out with some intent after the break and soon scored their third try of the game, with Downey once again on the end of a well-worked backs move to go over in the corner, following good work from Briggs and Helen Brosnan.
With 53 minutes on the clock, Ireland scored their fourth try through replacement Orla Brennan after the Irish pack formed a rolling maul which drove over the line, bringing the score to 27-8.
Ireland put the gloss on the scoreboard minutes from time when Briggs scored her second try of the afternoon from a fast-paced backs’ move to give a final score of Ireland 32 Scotland 8.
Ireland: Niamh Briggs, Eliza Downey, Joanne O’Sullivan, Lynne Cantwell, Máiréad Kelly, Helen Brosnan, Louise Beamish, Fiona Coghlan, (C). Gill Bourke, Louise Austin, Kate O’Loughlin, Marie Louise O’Reilly, Carol Staunton, Claire Molloy, Joy Neville. Replacements: Yvonne Nolan, Laura Guest, Orla Brennan, Sinead Ryan, Amy Davis, Shannon Houston, Jackie Shiels
Managed to grab a quick chat with Eliza Downey and Lauren Day after the match.
What do you think of your World Cup experience Eliza?
A couple of us were chatting the other night, just reflecting on the last three weeks and I think the term emotional rollercoaster wouldn’t be pushing it too far. Highs, lows but the crack’s been great and the experience has been second to none. It sort of blows your mind!
At the start when I was on the bench I needed to keep motivated and wait for my chance to come. Finally then in the third game I got a start, and a try, against Kazakhstan, but even the experience of playing a full match at international level was just a brilliant experience for myself. To learn what it’s like to be on the pitch for a full 80 minutes of an international and play all the way through was simply fantastic.
In the semi final we had a few lows against the USA the second time around. I try not to think about it now but on the day it just didn’t come together at all for us. However, I think it’s testament to our spirit the way we’ve come back after such disappointments, just failing to make the top four on points difference and then to lose to the US were big blows but we’ve come back today to beat Scotland and finish 7th in the World. It’s one up on last time round and going into the next World Cup we’ll be pushing again as we know that this time round we were on the cusp of something really, really special.
You scored two tries today. How did that feel?
It was fantastic experience, particularly the second, but as you can see today both tries were real team efforts, the ball was moved through a lot of pairs of hands before it got to me. A big team effort and when the team plays well it brings you on to up your game. It was a great feeling personally but it’s great to be able to contribute to the team as a whole.
There’s been great Irish support at all the matches. How’s that helped you?
Fantastic! The Irish are in town and they’ve made their presence felt with the songs, the chanting, the flags the colours, coming form all over Ireland. It’s meant a lot to the team to have the supporters here match after match and we’ve really appreciated it.
Definitely, personally, the support from Ulster at home, through the Ulster Branch, the FRU, from Cooke and from all the clubs at home has been overwhelming and it’s really made me push to get on the team. It’s this sort of support that drives you through the three weeks of a World Cup.
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Lauren, how’s your World Cup Experience been?
It’s been brilliant being here with the girls! It’s been a different journey in comparison to theirs but it’s one I’ve enjoyed and I’m so glad I had the opportunity to come over.
I hear you’ve been organising the cheer-leading section for the Ireland Supporters?
To be fair it’s been a bit like rent-a-crowd with the Ireland Supporters. We’ve had so many people over supporting Ireland that the other teams have been asking us to stay around after the Ireland games and cheer for them!
We’ve songs and song sheets organised and today we’ve a bus coming to take 50 Ireland supporters to the Stoop for the finals – don’t know if it’s been decided who we’re going to support yet but it’s all been great fun.
The morale had been brilliant, especially on the sidelines and speaking to the players they have really, really appreciated the support.
Is the experience going to make you more determined to get back in the team for next time?
Yeah, definitely! While I’ve had great fun supporting I must admit that there have been times when it’s been heartbreaking to be on the sidelines watching instead of playing.
But, everything happens for a reason, and this experience is just going to make me a fitter, stronger, faster player because I now know what needs to be done.