The Ireland Women finished second in their pool on the opening day of the Rugby Europe Women’s Sevens Grand Prix Series tournament in Kazan, Russia.
Ireland’s only defeat was a 29-5 loss to tournament hosts and Olympic Sevens Repechage rivals Russia, coming on the back of earlier wins over Italy (31-0) and Belgium (12-7).
Anthony Eddy’s side will return to the Central Stadium tomorrow morning (11.06am local time/9.06am Irish time – live on www.rugbyeurope.tv) to take on Pool C runners-up Spain in the Cup quarter-finals, with France v Netherlands, Russia v Portugal and Great Britain Lions v Great Britain Royals also meeting in the last-eight.
RUGBY EUROPE WOMEN’S SEVENS GRAND PRIX SERIES:
IRELAND 31 ITALY 0, Central Stadium, Kazan
Scorers: Ireland: Tries: Lucy Mulhall, Alison Miller 3, Aoife Doyle; Cons: Lucy Mulhall 3
Alison Miller’s well-taken hat-trick of tries was the highlight of Ireland’s opening win of the tournament in sunny Kazan.
The girls in green hit the front when Megan Williams snaffled turnover ball on the deck, possession was moved well out to the right and then left before captain Lucy Mulhall slipped out of a tackle near a midfield ruck to score and convert.
With two minutes left before half-time, Ireland pushed into a 14-0 lead. Ashleigh Baxter initiated a break from deep up to halfway, and from a loose pass on the right, Miller tidied up and handed off the covering defender to run in her side’s second seven-pointer.
Miller touched again with another strong finish within two minutes of the restart, with Kim Flood and Mulhall both prominent in the build-up.
Despite trailing 19-0, Italy proved sticky opponents, forcing errors and pressing in the Irish 22 before a strong clear-out from Niamh Briggs, who was introduced off the bench, led to a turnover and the ball was moved wide to the right where Aoife Doyle broke clear for a well-executed try converted by Mulhall.
Try number five followed in the final seconds, a scrum near the Italian 10-metre line allowing the fit-again Louise Galvin to feed Miller who burst clear near the right touchline to complete her hat-trick and a 31-0 triumph.
IRELAND: Stacey Flood, Megan Williams, Ashleigh Baxter, Aoife Doyle, Lucy Mulhall (capt), Kim Flood, Alison Miller.
Subs: Shannon Houston, Niamh Briggs, Nicole Cronin, Hannah Tyrrell, Louise Galvin.
IRELAND 12 BELGIUM 7, Central Stadium, Kazan
Scorers: Ireland: Tries: Nicole Cronin, Louise Galvin; Con: Niamh Briggs
Belgium: Try: Cecile Blondiau; Con: Carmen de Donder
Much-changed Ireland had a very tough battle with Belgium in round 2, with Louise Galvin’s 12th-minute try proving to be the difference between the teams.
There were early missed opportunities, with Hannah Tyrrell twice cutting back inside but to no avail. The well-organised Belgian defence frustrated Ireland during a scrappy first half.
That was until the fifth minute when Nicole Cronin marked her comeback from injury with a nicely-worked try, popping up on Stacey Flood’s shoulder to dart in behind the posts.
Niamh Briggs converted, but error-prone Ireland lost possession from a scrum and a ruck and ultimately paid the price, as Cecile Blondiau’s brilliant breakout try past the hooter levelled matters at 7-all.
Into the second period, Cronin did well to gobble up loose Belgian possession from a scrum, but Briggs then prevented a quick penalty being taken and was given a yellow card.
It was a real dog-fight as Belgium advanced into scoring range, but Ireland skipper Lucy Mulhall came off the bench to engineer the game’s decisive score. The Wicklow woman kicked long over the Belgian defence and won the race to the ball to tee up the supporting Galvin for a crucial unconverted effort.
Hearts were still in mouths, though, in a helter-skelter finish with tenacious Belgium attacking with serious intent. Ireland had the impressive Cronin to thank for a vital try-saving tackle late on.
IRELAND: Shannon Houston, Niamh Briggs, Stacey Flood, Megan Williams, Nicole Cronin, Hannah Tyrrell, Alison Miller.
Subs: Ashleigh Baxter, Aoife Doyle, Lucy Mulhall (capt), Kim Flood, Louise Galvin.
RUSSIA 29 IRELAND 5, Central Stadium, Kazan
Scorers: Russia: Tries: Elena Zdrokova, Mariia Perestiak, Marina Petrova 2, Daria Bobkova; Cons: Daria Lushina 2
Ireland: Try: Kim Flood
HT: Russia 19 Ireland 5
Ireland ended day one in disappointing fashion with a heavy reversal at the hands of a clinical Russian outfit.
From Elena Zdrokova’s first-minute try onwards, Russia looked the more potent side and Ireland, who leaked five tries in all, could only hit back with a Kim Flood effort close to half-time.
Eddy’s charges had started their final pool match well, with Stacey Flood and Shannon Houston running strongly over halfway, but a quick turnover saw Russia spring Zdrokova free on the left wing to score.
Russia soaked up further pressure in their 22 as Alison Miller threatened on a couple of occasions, and a second try against the run of play made for a deflating 12-0 scoreline from an Irish point of view.
Another long range score off the breakdown of an Irish attack had the hosts three tries to the good, before Kim Flood’s support run was rewarded with a deserved try. Niamh Briggs initially released Miller up the left wing, she was tackled short of the line but managed to feed Flood with the scoring pass.
Turnovers continued to kill Ireland in the second period, Russia seizing possession at a midfield ruck to put Marina Petrova away on the left and then Daria Bobkova evaded three defenders to claim a superb solo try from just outside the 22.
There were some positives to take into the play-offs, however, with Nicole Cronin and Louise Galvin both showing well after their recent injuries and Ireland 15s captain Briggs certainly adding to the squad’s depth.
The European Championships will be the final competitive tournament the girls in green will compete in before the Women’s Global Olympic Qualifying event takes place in UCD in Dublin on June 25-26 – tickets for which are available here from Ticketmaster.
IRELAND: Shannon Houston, Niamh Briggs, Stacey Flood, Hannah Tyrrell, Aoife Doyle, Kim Flood, Alison Miller.
Subs: Megan Williams, Nicole Cronin, Ashleigh Baxter, Lucy Mulhall (capt), Louise Galvin.
IRELAND WOMEN’S SEVENS Squad (2016 Rugby Europe Women’s Sevens Grand Prix Series, Kazan, Russia, Saturday, June 11-Sunday, June 12):
Ashleigh Baxter (Cooke/Ulster)
Niamh Briggs (UL Bohemians/Munster)
Nicole Cronin (Shannon/Munster)
Aoife Doyle (Railway Union/Munster)
Kim Flood (Railway Union/Leinster)
Stacey Flood (Railway Union/Leinster)
Louise Galvin (UL Bohemians/Munster)
Shannon Houston (Blackrock/Leinster)
Alison Miller (Portlaoise/Connacht)
Lucy Mulhall (Rathdrum/Leinster) (capt)
Hannah Tyrrell (Old Belvedere/Leinster)
Megan Williams (St. Mary’s)
Match Schedule –
Saturday, June 11
Ireland 31 Italy 0
Ireland 12 Belgium 7
Russia 29 Ireland 5
Sunday, June 12
Ireland v Spain, 11.06am local time/Irish time (live on www.rugbyeurope.tv)