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Ireland (3) 10
TRY: Nora Stapleton. CON: Nora Stapleton. PEN: Nora Stapleton.
England (5) 12
TRY: Rochelle Clarke, Izzy Noel-Smith. CON: Katy McLean.

A late try by England’s Izzy Noel-Smith denied a hard working Ireland an opening win in this inaugural Women’s Autumn Series match. Nora Stapleton’s second half try and conversion had pushed Ireland to a 10 – 5 lead mid way through the third quarter but Noel-Smith’s late try equaled the game and Katy McLean’s conversion gave the visitors the two point win.

Despite the score, I suspect that Ireland coach Tom Tierney will be reasonably happy with the performance though there will be concerns about the lack of penetration from the midfield with Ireland failing to create the number of chances their possession warranted.

It was stalemate for most of the first quarter as both teams battled for supremacy. Ireland probably edged possession but their tendency to crab sideways across the pitch quickly closed down what little space there was out wide.  It was a pity, as the back three of Alison Millar, Naimh Kavanagh and Mairead Coyne all looked dangerous with the ball in hand, unfortunately it often arrived with a host of English defenders attached. 

The stand out player on the field was England’s Vicky Fleetwood, the hookers incisive running being the main difference between the teams. While too many players on both sides looked for contact, the talented Fleetwood looked for space and an incisive run on the half hour mark took play into Ireland’s 22. A couple of chances went begging for the visitors before Fleetwood once again made the decisive break to put her captain Rochelle Clarke over for the opening score, which remained unconverted.

Any thoughts that England would cut loose were quickly quashed as Ireland, through Paula Fitzpatrick and Claire Molloy, drove hard at the English midfield and good work at the breakdown by Ailis Egan gave Stapleton an easy penalty in front of the posts to get her account started. The successful penalty seeing the teams turn round with the score reading Ireland 3 England 5.

All to play for in the second half and Ireland enjoyed thier best period in the third quarter. The team were much more direct and they enjoyed a substantial advantage in the scrum which saw play concentrated in the England half. Ireland looked to their forwards to make the breakthrough but England stood firm until the alert Stapleton pounced onto a loose ball and battled her way to the line for Ireland’s try. Stapleton converted and Ireland lead 10 – 5 on the 50 minute mark.

Ireland pushed hard for a second try for the next ten minutes but they were unable to break the well drilled English defence a second time and a changes at half back and some punishing runs of the back of the scrum from Sarah Hunter saw England work their way upfield.

The pressure led to a lineout deep in the Ireland 22 and the English maul did the rest with flanker Noel-Smith touching down out wide. Katy McLean knocked over the difficult conversion and England led by two points with eight minutes to go.

Ireland pushed hard for a winning score but they lacked that final spark to break down the well drilled English defence.

Final score: Ireland 10 England 12

Ireland: Mairead Coyne, Niamh Kavanagh, Nicole Fowley, Sene Naoupu, Alison Miller, Nora Stapleton, Larissa Muldoon, Lindsay Peat, Cliodhna Moloney, Ailis Egan, Marie Louise Reilly, Orla Fitzsimons, Ciara Griffin, Claire Molloy, Paula Fitzpatrick. Replacements: Leah Lyons, Fiona Hayes, Fiona Reidy, Katie Norris, Chloe Pearse, Mary Healy, Nikki Caughey, Jackie Shiels.

FRU shout out to Mairead Coyne and Chloe Pearse. Good stuff. 🙂 🙂 🙂

Gallery below.

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