21/05/02.An 18-0 defeat of bottom seeds Germany yesterday in Girona gave Ireland their first victory at the Women’s World Cup and ended a famine of seven Tests without a try,
Ireland crossed for two tries, one from promising young centre Patrique Kelly and the other from Fiona Steed, while fullback Sarahjane Belton contributed eight points with the boot.
But Donal O’Leary’s team were far from convincing in a mediocre match marred by a ridiculously poor referee, whose performances so far would suggest that there was a large degree of tokenism in her appointment.
On one occasion, she allowed the Germans to kick to touch from a free kick and gave them the throw at the lineout as if it was a penalty, only to change her mind after protests from Steed. Her failure to play advantage repeatedly cost Ireland momentum.
It was still disappointing that Ireland made such heavy weather of beating the lowly Germans, who had been hit for 117 points by holders New Zealand and 75 by Wales, each without reply, in their opening two games.
Suzanne Fleming’s side never really threatened to pile on too much more agony, largely looking clueless and pedestrian and undermining their own possession and position by, among other things, getting wheeled in far too many scrums and losing the next put-in.
A combination of poor refereeing and unfamiliarity with having the favourites’ tag for once in an international militated against Ireland in a woefully inept opening half hour as they sought to break a run of over 10 hours without a Test try.
They did have their chances, fullback Belton missing with a penalty attempt and Blackrock lock Anne-Marie McAllister spilling the ball with the line at her mercy after a good run and cut-out pass by Steed.
Ireland were in danger of going into the interval embarrassingly locked in scoreless stalemate with the tournament’s no-hopers, but then the young UL Bohs pair of Belton and Kelly combined to conjure a brilliant opening try through a moment of magic.
Fullback Belton hit the line at pace and, after breaking the first line of defence, found her fellow 21-year old and club captain Kelly, who showed real conviction in finishing superbly from outside the 22 to claim her first international try.
Belton, entrusted with the place-kicking duties in the absence of benched Ulster captain Rachel Reid, converted and added a penalty just before the break so Ireland turned round 10 points to the good.
In spite of the comfortable enough cushion, Ireland still struggled to really take control in the second period and assert their superiority, so it was left to Steed, in her 51st Test, to produce an opportunist try.
The Shannon flanker, who kept going magnificently in spite of the oppressive heat, charged down a German kick around their 22, scooped up the loose ball and rampaged home wide on the left.
Belton had earlier landed a penalty but, in spite of now being 18-0 up entering the final quarter, Ireland still couldn’t cut loose and actually ended up trapped in their own 22 for a prolonged period.
As against Samoa last Friday, Shannon prop Jean Lonergan looked the part again yesterday, further exposing the fallacy of leaving her on the bench for the opening game with Canada.
Ireland now face the dangerous Japanese, who last night thrashed Holland with an exhilarating display of running rugby, in Friday evening’s Shield final, with 13th place at stake.
Unless they defend cleverly and avoid panicking about the pace of the Japanese attacks, it could be a long evening for the girls in green.
IRELAND: SJ Belton (UL Bohs); R Boyd (Cooke), P Kelly (UL Bohs), N Milne (Worcester), S Fleming (Cooke, capt); R Howell (UL Bohs), L Beamish (UL Bohs); J Lonergan (Shannon), M Coulter (Blackrock), E Coen (Highfield), A-M McAllister (Blackrock), M Quirke (UL Bohs), B Montgomery (Ripon), M O’Loughlin(UL Bohs), F Steed (Shannon). Replacements: L Cantwell (UL Bohs) for Howell, M Dolo (Old Belvedere) for Coen, R Foley (Shannon) for McAllister, R Reid (Cooke) for O’Loughlin.