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Anguish For Girls In Green.

Anguish For Girls In Green.

24/03/02.Ireland’s women came agonisingly close to a first ever Six Nations victory in a Thomond Park nail-biter last night but in the end went down 8-6 to a strong Spanish side.

Suzanne Fleming’s girls in green put up a great fight and a penalty from fullback Sarahjane Belton seven minutes from the end which reduced the arrears to only two points gave Ireland real hope. But, in a thrilling finish which saw a Spanish flanker sinbinned for killing the ball, Ireland just couldn’t get what would have been a winning score.

Defeat was heartbreaking for the Irish, but this result marked a massive
improvement on a 42-0 thrashing in Barcelona in the opening game of last season’s Six Nations.

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In the current campaign, Ireland have been extremely competitive in all three games at their new Thomond Park home, and can take
great heart in spite of a hat-trick of defeats. Donal O’Leary’s team conceeded only 13 points against each of their Celtic cousins, Wales and Scotland, and here their defence was even tighter against the Spanish.

Ulster captain Rachel Reid, making her 13th consecutive start at blindside
flanker, put Ireland ahead with a penalty in the opening minutes, a lead which they held until the second quarter. Spain struck on 25 minutes, when their fullback came into the line to cross for a try, which went unconverted, with the inside centre adding a penalty five minutes before the break.

Only five points down having played into what wind there was in the first half, the Irish went in at the interval in upbeat mood knowing the elements would be in their favour in the second period. Reid was replaced in the back row by Leinster’s English-based loose forward Bridget Montgomery with half an hour remaining and Waterloo wing Fiona
Neary took over from Ulster colleague Rachel Boyd wide on the left a few minutes later. Ireland were able to secure a reasonable supply of possession thanks to a steady scrum and much improved lineout, while recalled outhalf Rochelle Howell got the backline moving better than in recent games.
Worcester’s Nicky Milne, switched to centre from stand-off for this game, and Neary once caught the Spanish winger in possession deep in her own territory, but the visitors somehow retained the ball. Young fullback star Belton, who again enhanced her rapidly rising reputation, landed a penalty
on 73 minutes to leave Ireland only one more Spanish indiscretion from victory.

The sinbinning of the visiting flanker added to the late drama but, in spite of the home country’s numerical advantage, Spain just about held out
until the final whistle. Ireland, for whom Shannon prop Jean Lonergan impressed on her first international start, finish their Six Nations campaign against Grand Slam chasing France in Melun near Paris on the first Friday night of next month.

Ireland: SJ Belton; S Fleming (capt), P Kelly, N Milne, R Boyd (F Neary, 55 mins); R Howell, K Eagleson; J Lonergan, E Collins, E Coen, M Quirke, A-M McAllister, R Reid (B Montgomery, 50), M O’Loughlin, F Steed.