The Ireland Women’s team made sure their English counterparts had to work hard to complete their third successive Grand Slam in the RBS Women’s Six Nations at Sunbury on Saturday. The Irish deservedly got over for a late converted try through Caroline Mahon.
2008 RBS WOMEN’S SIX NATIONS: Saturday, March 15
ENGLAND WOMEN 17 IRELAND WOMEN 7, London Irish Amateur RFC
Scorers: England: Tries: Claire Allan, Sarah Beale; Cons: Katy McLean, Alice Richardson; Pen: Katy McLean
Ireland: Try: Caroline Mahon; Con: Grace Davitt
After experimenting with his team selection in last weekend’s defeat to Wales, Ireland coach John O’Sullivan opted for a more settled side with Tania Rosser reverting back to scrum half and Jo O’Sullivan, who was facing some of her Richmond club mates, moving from centre to out-half.
The Irish lost 32-0 to England at Thomond Park last year but this was an all-together different game and showed the development the girls in green have made over the last twelve months.
O’Sullivan’s charges, who missed out on their best ever Six Nations finish when losing 19-10 to Wales eight days ago, got off to a poor start though as England centre Claire Allan burst through for a try in the first-minute at Sunbury.
England set up a scrum in the Irish 22 and a neat pass from scrum half Amy Turner sent Allan in under the posts, allowing out-half Katy McLean to add the simple conversion.
Ireland were struggling to get their hands on the ball and in the eighth-minute, McLean landed his one and only penalty goal of the tie. She missed a 20th-minute opportunity as England turned around at half-time with a 10-0 advantage.
Save for that early lapse, a feature of the first half was Ireland’s tenacious defence. The forwards, including the likes of Caroline Mahon, Orla Brennan and Joy Neville, foraged well at the breakdown and prevented the reigning champions from getting up their usual head of steam.
England had beaten France 31-0, Italy 76-6, Wales 55-0 and Scotland 34-5 in recent weeks so to keep Gary Street’s side to just 17 points was quite an achievement by the Irish.
England broke through for the second try, ten minutes from time, when they muscled their way back into the Irish 22 and replacement Sarah Beale spotted a gap to go over, with fellow replacement Alice Richardson making the score a seven-pointer.
Credit to Ireland though, they kept plugging away right to the final whistle and they were rewarded when they set up a lineout, five metres from the English line, and the subsequent drive ended with Caroline Mahon touching down.
Winger Grace Davitt added the extras to what was only the second try England had conceded in the entire tournament.
So Ireland endeded the championship on a losing note, but a brave performance such as this against a much stronger England side will give them hope for next year and beyond with the next IRB Women’s Rugby World Cup in 2010.
ENGLAND WOMEN: Charlotte Barras (Saracens); Michaela Staniford (Wasps), Claire Allan (Saracens), Rachael Burford (Saracens), Danielle Waterman (Clifton); Katy McLean (Darlington Mowden Park Sharks), Amy Turner (Richmond); Rochelle Clark (Henley), Amy Garnett (Saracens), Katy Storie (Balydon Team Northumbria), Tamara Taylor (Darlington Mowden Park Sharks), Joanna McGilchrist (Wasps), Sarah Hunter (Lichfield), Margaret Alphonsi (Saracens), Catherine Spencer (Worcester) (capt).
Replacements: Emma Layland (Richmond), Sophie Hemming (Clifton), Sarah Beale (Leos), Karen Jones (Richmond), Alice Richardson (Richmond), Katherine Merchant (Worcester), Victoria Massarella (Saracens).
IRELAND WOMEN: Sarahjane Belton (UL Bohemians) (capt); Lynne Cantwell (UL Bohemians), Patrique Kelly (UL Bohemians), Shannon Houston (Blackrock), Grace Davitt (Blackrock); Jo O’Sullivan (Richmond), Tania Rosser (Blackrock); Fiona Coghlan (UL Bohemians), Jessika Limbert (Cooke), Marie Barrett (Highfield), Germaine Healy (Blackrock), Caroline Mahon (UL Bohemians), Orla Brennan (Blackrock), Eimear O’Sullivan (Highfield), Joy Neville (UL Bohemians).
Replacements: Gillian Bourke (UL Bohemians), Yvonne Nolan (Blackrock), Louise Austin (Blackrock), Sinead Ryan (Blackrock), Louise Beamish (UL Bohemians), Niamh Briggs (Clonmel), Amy Davis (Cooke).
Referee: Andrew Healy (Scotland)