Ireland Women recorded their second win of the Six Nations Championship with a hard fought 14 – 3 victory against Italy at Donnybrook on Sunday afternoon. Lindsay Peat and Paula Fitzpatrick bagged the all important tries with Niamh Briggs and Nora Stapleton each adding a conversion.
Ireland Women: (7) 14
TRY: Lindsay Peat, Paula Fitzpatrick.
CON: Niamh Briggs, Nora Stapleton.
Italy Women: (3) 3
PEN: Michela Sillari
I’ve mostly enjoyed the Women’s series this time out but it’s been a mixed bag to say the least. On a positive note there have been fourteen new caps, Kim Flood, Liz Burke and Ulster’s Claire McLaughlin joining the fold this time round, but, on the negative side the back play has disappointed with Ireland, once again, having to look to their formidable pack to get them out of bother.
The back line looks too structured and too slow, rather like in the Sevens programme, and, though there are fliers on the wings, laboured ball handling across the back line means the defence is arriving before the ball. Rugby is a simple game, often made difficult, and to me there is nothing more important than basic handling skills which make the ball work. It’s the performance of this skill, under pressure, that is missing.
Having said that this was a tactically clever game by Ireland and they ticked a lot of boxes in what they are trying to achieve this season. Defence was good and the timing of the substitutions and their impact was well managed against a useful Italian side who got into the game early and remained competitive throughout.
In fact it was the visitors who enjoyed the bulk of territory and possession in the opening quarter with their centre Michela Sillari converting a penalty to give Italy a 0 – 3 lead after eleven minutes. Ireland were restricted to the odd foray into the Italian half but there were too many handling errors for anything of note to develop and with Italy well on top at the breakdown Ireland were largely restricted to fighting a rear guard defence.
Ireland, came into the game more as the half progressed and by the thirty minute mark they looked to be gaining an edge, albeit a blunt one. However a break by Sene Naoupu got beyond the first line of defence and impressive prop Peat was on hand to take the ball to the line for her first international try. Briggs converted and the rest of the team took a collective sigh of relief as Ireland led 7 – 3 at the break.
From then on Ireland pretty much dominated. Alison Millar had a couple of darts but she was pretty well marshalled by the Italian defence who never gave her a sniff of the outside. Coach Tom Tierney started his structured substitutions fairly early with Nikki Caughey and Mary Healy making way for Stapleton and Larissa Muldoon on the 50th minute before McLaughlin was introduced, along with Paula Fitzpatrick, ten minutes later as Briggs and Sophie Spence were withdrawn.
McLaughlin went close with her first touch as Ireland set up camp in the Italian half but that was pretty much her only opportunity as a Fitzpatrick inspired pack took over, aided and abetted by the choppsy Muldoon who directed the forwards from the behind the scrum.
True to form it was Fitzpatrick who touched down at the back of a maul following an attacking line out and with Stapleton converting Ireland extended their lead to 14 – 3 with fifteen minutes left.
The remainder of the game was interrupted by further substitutions and a couple of breaks for head injury assessments and neither side developed much. Ireland did create a couple of overlaps out wide but the ball seldom managed to travel that far, the game closing out without the scoreboard being troubled further.
Final Score: Ireland Women 14 Italy Women 3.
Ireland: Kim Flood, Liz Burke, Niamh Briggs, Sene Naoupu, Alison Miller, Nikki Caughey, Mary Healy, Lindsay Peat, Cliodhna Moloney, Ailis Egan, Elaine Anthony, Marie Louise Reilly, Ciara Cooney, Ciara Griffin, Sophie Spence. Replacements: Zoe Grattage, Ruth O’Reilly, Fiona Reidy, Claire Molloy, Paula Fitzpatrick, Larissa Muldoon, Nora Stapleton, Claire McLaughlin.
On the whole I came away from the game generally impressed with a team that stuck to its patterns and delivered a win, all while rotating their two truly world class players, Fitzpatrick and Spence.
To be fair, a good crop of forwards has been developed, however a lot of the backs lack the basic skill of passing and receiving under pressure and this isn’t something that you can send the players back to their clubs to work on as there just aren’t enough high quality women’s club games around. It has to be worked on in camp.
The constant switching of Caughey and Stapleton at out half isn’t helping them or the team. Caughey, in particular, is a lot more inventive in the centre and I’d like to see her partnering Naoupu with the experienced Stapleton at out half. Play them, with Briggs to replace either from the bench, and let’s see what they are made off. 😯