The Ireland Women secured their best ever finish as a core team on the IRB Womens Sevens World Series circuit as they won the Bowl title at the China Sevens in Guangzhou today.
Jon Skurr’s ever-improving squad enjoyed back-to-back wins over Brazil (15-0) and tournament hosts China (17-7) to finish 9th overall, with captain Shannon Houston receiving the Bowl title.
It is a hugely encouraging result with the bonus of the Bowl silverware to take home. Ireland finished 11th, 12th and 11th respectively in the Dubai, Atlanta and São Paulo legs earlier in the season.
Finishing ninth of the 12 competing teams in Guangzhou earns them four series points – they are now 13th in the standings – and will boost confidence heading into the final leg in Amsterdam on May 16-17.
The victory in the Bowl semi-final was Ireland’s first time to beat Brazil this year after recent defeats in Atlanta, São Paulo and Hong Kong.
The teams had to cope with the pouring rain and difficult conditions on day 2 in south east China, but Ireland made light of the worsening weather to produce some of their best rugby of the series.
An early unconverted try from Martina McCarthy gave the girls in green a 5-0 lead over the Brazilians, and second half scores from Siobhan Barrett and McCarthy confirmed the win.
McCarthy, who was part of the Irish 4x400m relay team at the 2000 Olympics, used her sprinter’s pace to very good effect on her series debut.
The St. Mary’s star scored another brace in the Bowl final against China – taking her tally in Guangzhou to five tries in as many games.
The girls in green had to come from behind against the Chinese, who ran in the opening try through Sun Tingting in front of a vocal home crowd.
But McCarthy closed the gap to 7-5 before the half-time hooter, and Ireland pushed on in the closing half with Nikki Caughey converting McCarthy’s second effort and Saracens’ Megan Williams adding a third try for a 10-point success.
Claire Keohane is the only member of the squad who was involved in last year’s Plate final win in China when Ireland competed as an invitational team.
Skurr’s 12-player panel includes three series debutants in McCarthy, who finished as the tournament’s joint-third top try scorer, Amee-Leigh Murphy Crowe and Katie Fitzhenry.
Three squad members – McCarthy, Murphy Crowe and Laura Lee Walsh – came through the IRFU’s on-going talent identification programme.
The programme, which is open to the wider athletic and team sport community, offers elite athletes the opportunity to join an Olympic programme in what is a new and exciting international female sport.
With support from the Irish Sports Council, the IRFU have committed to a long-term Women’s Sevens programme with the express goal of qualifying for the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro.
IRELAND WOMEN’S SEVENS Squad (Guangzhou Sevens, University Town Stadium, Guangzhou, China, April 5-6):
1. Shannon Houston (Blackrock/Leinster) (capt)
2. Martina McCarthy (St. Mary’s/Talent ID Programme)
3. Niamh Ni Dhroma (Buccaneers/Connacht)
4. Nicole Cronin (Shannon/Munster)
5. Claire Keohane (UL Bohemians/Munster)
6. Megan Williams (Saracens/Exiles)
7. Amee-Leigh Murphy Crowe (Clanwilliam/Munster/Talent ID Programme)
8. Katie Fitzhenry (Blackrock/Leinster)
9. Nikki Caughey (Belfast Harlequins/Ulster)
10. Siobhan Barrett (Tralee/Munster)
11. Laura Lee Walsh (Talent ID Programme)
12. Susan Vaughan (Railway Union/Leinster)
Saturday, April 5 – Pool B
Australia 50 IRELAND 0, University Town Stadium
IRELAND 19 England 21, University Town Stadium
Fiji 36 Ireland 7, University Town Stadium
Sunday, April 6 – Bowl Competition
Semi-final – IRELAND 15 Brazil 0, University Town Stadium
Scorers: Ireland: Tries: Martina McCarthy 2, Siobhan Barrett
Final – China 7 IRELAND 17, University Town Stadium
Scorers: China: Try: Sun Tingting; Con: Yu Xiaoming
Ireland: Tries: Martina McCarthy 2, Megan Williams; Con: Nikki Caughey
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