The Ireland Women made a big statement on day 2 of the Dubai Sevens tournament, winning the Challenge Trophy after overcoming the USA and Spain – two teams that finished well ahead of them in last season’s HSBC World Rugby Women’s Sevens Series.
A storming second half comeback in the intense Arabian heat saw Ireland secure a thrilling 14-12 win over Spain in the Challenge Trophy final at the Sevens Stadium, the spoils for the victors being a ninth place finish overall and four World Series points.
Speaking afterwards, Ireland’s try-scoring captain Lucy Mulhall said: “We’re happy to have walked away with a (final) win there today. Day one didn’t go as planned and we really want to be playing in the top eight. We were disappointed last night.
“But to wake up this morning and put together a convincing performance against the USA and then, when everything got hard and we were 12 points down against Spain, to fight back and win the second half 14-0, it’s just phenomenal and I’m very proud of the girls.”
She singled out Amee-Leigh Crowe for special praise as the Tipperary youngster produced a brilliant late try-saving tackle to prevent Spain from pinching the victory. The 21-year-old Crowe’s finishing skills shone through yesterday with three tries during the pool stages.
Mulhall herself was a tireless performer over the two days, finishing as the tournament’s leading carrier (28) and joint-fifth top tackler (19). With 12 tries, Ireland finished ahead of Spain, South Africa, the USA and Brazil in the try-scoring stakes. As well as Crowe, Aoife Doyle and Alison Miller scored a brace each and Stacey Flood, Nicole Cronin, Hannah Tyrrell, Megan Williams and Mulhall also got over the whitewash in Dubai.
Following a frustrating finish against Fiji yesterday, Anthony Eddy’s side opened day 2 with a very clinical performance against the Americans. They were 14-0 up by half-time, Miller showing great gas for the first try, beating three defenders as only she can, and then a collective effort fed her out wide for try number two.
Mulhall and Kim Flood added two very well-struck conversions, and Shannon clubwoman Doyle used a strong hand-off on her namesake Lauren Doyle to make it 21-0. Nicole Heavirland hit back for the USA in the 12th minute, notching an unconverted score from a Cheta Emba pass, however Tyrrell had the final say, using her power and pace to run in Ireland’s fourth seven-pointer of the game.
Renewing rivalries with Spain in the Trophy decider, Ireland made a poor start and were 7-0 down after barely a minute. Spanish playmaker Patricia Garcia spotted a gap on the blindside to go over out wide from a close-in ruck, and then tag on a terrific conversion.
Strong running from Miller got Ireland into the Spanish half, but Garcia and her team-mates were sharper at the breakdown and a bout of pressure late in the first half yielded a second try from Maria Casado in the same left corner, with the conversion narrowly off target this time.
Despite some promising runs from Crowe, Miller and Kim Flood, Ireland remained scoreless up to half-time, their decision-making letting them down in the final seconds. There were immediate improvements on the restart, Kim Flood’s high take setting up a positive phase that saw Doyle – one of Ireland’s four available replacements compared to Spain’s two – getting her hands on the ball.
Crucially, the girls in green had points to show inside the two-minute mark, a quick lineout being fed into midfield where Williams sliced in between two covering defenders and ran in behind the posts for a very well-taken try converted by skipper Mulhall.
Stacey Flood’s strong tackle to haul down Garcia, who had broken up the left wing, and Ashleigh Baxter’s control of a difficult pass preceded an excellent individual try from Mulhall, midway through the second half. The Spanish players were expecting the Wicklow woman to pass to the left but instead she stepped onto her right and split the defence with a straight run through the middle from just inside her half.
Mulhall’s conversion took Ireland ahead for the first time, just reward for her side being a lot more direct and playing to a higher tempo since the interval.
Spain engineered one final chance, but Crowe managed to hold onto and bundle Enaro Cacho into touch just a couple of metres out. With regular lineout winner Williams off, new cap Emma Murphy rose to secure important lineout possession and Ireland wound down the clock, the physicality of Tyrrell and Baxter helping them to retain possession from ruck to ruck before Mulhall kicked it dead, just past the hooter.
IRELAND WOMEN’S SEVENS Squad (2016/17 HSBC WORLD RUGBY WOMEN’S SEVENS SERIES, The Sevens Stadium, Dubai, Thursday, December 1-Friday, December 2):
Ashleigh Baxter (Cooke/Ulster)
Nicole Cronin (Shannon/Munster)
Aoife Doyle (Shannon/Munster)
Katie Fitzhenry (Blackrock/Leinster)
Kim Flood (Railway Union/Leinster)
Stacey Flood (Railway Union/Leinster)
Alison Miller (Old Belvedere/Connacht)
Lucy Mulhall (Rathdrum/Leinster) (capt)
Emma Murphy (Railway Union/Leinster)
Amee-Leigh Crowe (Railway Union/Munster)
Hannah Tyrrell (Old Belvedere/Leinster)
Megan Williams (Ireland Sevens Programme)
IRELAND WOMEN’S SEVENS RESULTS – DUBAI 7s:
Thursday, December 1 –
Ireland 5 New Zealand 27
Scorers: Ireland Try: Amee-Leigh Crowe
Team: Ashleigh Baxter, Katie Fitzhenry, Megan Williams, Hannah Tyrrell, Lucy Mulhall (capt), Alison Miller, Stacey Flood.
Subs: Nicole Cronin, Amee-Leigh Crowe, Aoife Doyle, Emma Murphy, Kim Flood.
Ireland 14 France 24
Scorers: Ireland: Tries: Stacey Flood, Amee-Leigh Crowe; Cons: Lucy Mulhall 2
Team: Ashleigh Baxter, Katie Fitzhenry, Megan Williams, Aoife Doyle, Amee-Leigh Crowe, Stacey Flood, Lucy Mulhall (capt).
Subs: Alison Miller, Kim Flood, Nicole Cronin, Emma Murphy, Hannah Tyrrell.
Ireland 17 Fiji 17
Scorers: Ireland: Tries: Amee-Leigh Crowe, Nicole Cronin, Aoife Doyle; Con: Lucy Mulhall
Team: Ashleigh Baxter, Megan Williams, Kim Flood, Hannah Tyrrell, Lucy Mulhall (capt), Stacey Flood, Amee-Leigh Crowe.
Subs: Nicole Cronin, Alison Miller, Katie Fitzhenry, Aoife Doyle, Emma Murphy.
Friday, December 2 –
Trophy Semi-Final: Ireland 28 USA 5
Scorers: Ireland: Tries: Alison Miller 2, Aoife Doyle, Hannah Tyrrell; Cons: Lucy Mulhall 2, Kim Flood 2
Team: Ashleigh Baxter, Kim Flood, Megan Williams, Lucy Mulhall (capt), Stacey Flood, Alison Miller, Amee-Leigh Crowe.
Subs: Nicole Cronin, Katie Fitzhenry, Hannah Tyrrell, Aoife Doyle, Emma Murphy.
Trophy Final: Ireland 14 Spain 12
Scorers: Ireland: Tries: Megan Williams, Lucy Mulhall; Cons: Lucy Mulhall 2
Team: Ashleigh Baxter, Kim Flood, Megan Williams, Lucy Mulhall (capt), Alison Miller, Amee-Leigh Crowe, Stacey Flood.
Subs: Katie Fitzhenry, Hannah Tyrrell, Aoife Doyle, Emma Murphy.
IRELAND WOMEN’S SEVENS MANAGEMENT –
Anthony Eddy – IRFU Director of Sevens
Gillian McDarby – Team Manager
Marian Earls – S&C Coach
Lorcan McGee – Physiotherapist
Alan Walsh – Performance Analyst
Alan Farrell – Team Doctor
Sam O’Byrne – Media & Communications