The Ireland Women’s squad endured a difficult opening day at the Kitakyushu 7s in Japan, going down to Fiji (45-0), Olympic champions Australia (36-0) and Brazil (27-10) to finish bottom of Pool B.
Anthony Eddy’s side had a day to forget and will be targeting much-improved performances and results tomorrow. They have a rematch with Brazil in the semi-finals of the Challenge Trophy (9th-12th places), kicking off at 11.58am local time/3.58am Irish time.
Ireland’s hopes of reaching the Cup quarter-finals again took a big knock in their pool opener as Fiji stormed their way to a 45-0 victory at the resplendent Mikuni World Stadium.
The girls in green, who had lost 31-5 to Fiji in Las Vegas last month, had the majority of the first half possession before the Fijians exploded into life, scoring three quick-fire tries to lead 21-0 at half-time.
A nice offload played in Timaima Rosi Lulutai Ravisa for the opening score in the fifth minute, Asinate Ufia Savu stepped past two defenders for the second just before the hooter, and Raijieli Daveua profited from an Irish knock-on and some slicking Fijian passing for their third converted effort.
Try number four followed just 40 seconds into the second half. Initially Ireland had done well, Louise Galvin claiming the restart and Amee-Leigh Murphy Crowe threatening on a break. However, she lacked support and the turnover saw Fiji counter impressively for Miriama Naiobalasi to score.
As Ireland’s error count increased, a couple of misplaced passes handed possession back to Fiji whose confidence was now sky-high. They worked the ball across the pitch, a clever switch move out wide sending Ravisa through for her second try and a 33-0 lead.
Further Irish mistakes, including a series of penalties, saw the Fijians add two more tries to their tally. Daveua completed her brace and captain Ana Maria Roqica grabbed try number seven to finish out the rout.
In the second round, an early turnover proved costly as Australia worked an overlap for Emilee Cherry to run in a first-minute try. The 18-year-old Demi Hayes, who was set free after a missed tackle, and Ellia Green, who profited from a Charlotte Caslick kick downfield and quick ruck ball, also crossed the whitewash before half-time, leaving Ireland with a 17-point deficit to overcome.
Green’s pace was too much from a tap penalty inside her own half as she sprinted clear to make it 24-0 after nine minutes. Ireland hit back strongly with a promising break from Megan Williams, but with the final pass not going to hand, they let the Australians off the hook.
Frustratingly, Ireland conceded two late tries as Australia put 36 points on them, with Chloe Dalton’s break from the blindside of a ruck rewarding her with a five-pointer and Evania Pelite’s closing converted score again highlighting Irish inaccuracies and Australia’s clinical use of possession.
That left Eddy’s charges looking to break their duck against Brazil who had also lost to both Australia (38-0) and Fiji (34-7) in the opening two rounds. However, poor defending and some uncharacteristic errors from Ireland left them playing catch-up early on, and it was the South Americans who ran out convincing 27-10 winners in the end.
Lucy Mulhall and her team-mates have had the measure of Brazil before, registering a fine 33-5 victory in Sydney in February, but tries from Isadora Cerullo, Beatriz Futuro Muhlbauer and Bianca Silva inside the opening six minutes had Ireland under serious pressure at 15-0 down.
Thankfully the girls in green opened their try account before the interval, moving the ball wide from a well-worked lineout for Murphy Crowe to break away from her own 22 and claim her 13th score of the 2016/17 World Series.
Back within 10 points of Brazil, Ireland started the second period with a lot of purpose. Kim Flood carried strongly and offloaded but the supporting Audrey O’Flynn knocked on five metres out and another scoring chance was lost.
A brilliant try-saving tackle by Murphy Crowe gave her side a lift, however Brazil effectively sealed the result with an intercept try with three-and-a-half minutes remaining. Raquel Kochhann read O’Flynn’s attempted offload and turned it into her team’s fourth unconverted score.
Ireland had another near miss when Hannah Tyrrell knocked on near the whitewash after good initial work from skipper Mulhall, whose incisive running had split the Brazilian defence. They were knocking on the door soon after, but the diminutive Edna Santini used a turnover near her own line to scoot away from two defenders for an excellent length-of-the-pitch try.
Ireland did gain some consolation in the form of a Stacey Flood five-pointer, Murphy Crowe gobbling up the restart and Mulhall, Ashleigh Baxter and Sene Naoupu were all prominent in the build-up. It was a glimpse of what they can do with ball in hand, and day 2 gives them the opportunity to bounce back in the Challenge Trophy play-offs which also include Spain and hosts Japan.
IRELAND WOMEN’S SEVENS Squad (HSBC World Rugby Women’s Sevens Series – Kitakyushu Sevens, Mikuni World Stadium, Kitakyushu, Japan, Saturday, April 22-Sunday, April 23):
Ashleigh Baxter (Cooke/Ulster)
Claire Keohane (UL Bohemians/Munster)
Stacey Flood (Railway Union/Leinster)
Lucy Mulhall (Rathdrum/Leinster) (capt)
Amee-Leigh Murphy Crowe (Railway Union/Munster)
Sene Naoupu (Aylesford Bulls)
Audrey O’Flynn (Ireland Sevens Programme)
Hannah Tyrrell (Old Belvedere/Leinster)
Megan Williams (Ireland Sevens Programme)
Kim Flood (Railway Union/Leinster)
Louise Galvin (UL Bohemians/Munster)
Emma Murphy (Railway Union/Leinster)
IRELAND WOMEN’S SEVENS Results/Fixtures –
Kitakyushu 7s – Pool B:
Saturday, April 22
Ireland 0 Fiji 45
Scorers: Ireland: –
Team: Ashleigh Baxter, Audrey O’Flynn, Megan Williams, Louise Galvin, Amee-Leigh Murphy Crowe, Stacey Flood, Lucy Mulhall (capt).
Subs used: Claire Keohane, Hannah Tyrrell, Sene Naoupu, Kim Flood. Not used: Emma Murphy.
Australia 36 Ireland 0
Scorers: Ireland: –
Team: Kim Flood, Megan Williams, Sene Naoupu, Amee-Leigh Murphy Crowe, Hannah Tyrrell, Stacey Flood, Lucy Mulhall (capt).
Subs used: Ashleigh Baxter, Emma Murphy, Audrey O’Flynn, Claire Keohane, Louise Galvin.
Ireland 10 Brazil 27
Scorers: Ireland: Tries: Amee-Leigh Murphy Crowe, Stacey Flood
Team: Kim Flood, Audrey, O’Flynn, Ashleigh Baxter, Louise Galvin, Amee-Leigh Murphy Crowe, Lucy Mulhall (capt), Stacey Flood.
Subs used: Claire Keohane, Emma Murphy, Hannah Tyrrell, Sene Naoupu. Not used: Megan Williams.
Sunday, April 23
Challenge Trophy Semi-Final: Brazil v Ireland, Mikuni World Stadium, 11.58am local time/3.58am Irish time
For more information on the HSBC World Rugby Women’s Sevens Series, visit http://www.worldrugby.org/womens-sevens-series.