Having missed out on a top eight finish, the Ireland Women bounced back to win the Challenge trophy today at the Kitakyushu 7s – the fourth leg of the HSBC World Rugby Women’s Sevens Series.
Anthony Eddy’s side put a very disappointing day 1 behind them as they got the better of Brazil (24-5) and Spain (26-7) to claim the Challenge trophy, a ninth place finish overall and four more World Series points.
It matched their achievement from the opening round in Dubai, but an inconsistent weekend meant it was a drop-off from their recent exploits in Sydney and Las Vegas where they featured in the Cup quarter-finals and the top eight.
Ahead of the final two legs in Langford, Canada (May 27-28) and Clermont-Ferrand (June 24-25), Ireland remain ninth in the World Series standings and have a 10-point gap to make up on eighth-placed England (30 points).
Ireland entered the second day in Kitakyushu without the injured Emma Murphy and Amee-Leigh Murphy Crowe, and their revenge mission against Brazil, who handed them a 27-10 pool defeat yesterday, grew more difficult after conceding a first-minute intercept try.
Beatriz Futuro Muhlbauer scampered in from halfway to give the Brazilians a 5-0 lead in the Challenge Trophy semi-final, but the girls in green found their form as the first half progressed and were 17-5 to the good by the break.
Audrey O’Flynn made it over wide on the right for their first try, with Megan Williams, Sene Naoupu and captain Lucy Mulhall all carrying strongly and with pace in the build-up. Mulhall added a terrific conversion to edge Ireland in front.
Williams powered through a defender for try number two just a minute later, Ireland building the attack following good work from the restart by Louise Galvin and Stacey Flood. They added a third score just before the hooter, the all-action Mulhall threatening off scrum ball and providing the offload for Naoupu to run into space and score.
Ireland continued to improve in the second half, absorbing some early and late Brazilian pressure to keep them out. In between, Naoupu brilliantly completed her brace in the 13th minute. Kim Flood’s big touchfinder set up a lineout and a training ground move saw Naoupu finish with aplomb for a 24-5 final scoreline.
A dominant first half performance set the tone for Ireland’s 26-7 victory over Spain in the Challenge Trophy decider. Williams showed impressive strength and speed to notch the opening try, two minutes in, with Galvin impressing with the initial break.
Mulhall converted and Stacey Flood was next over the whitewash in the fourth minute, Ashleigh Baxter hoovering up the restart and then Flood spotting a gap on the right to sprint in and touch down. A high tackle on the try scorer saw Spain’s Maria Ribera promptly sin-binned.
The same move off a lineout from the Brazil game soon sprung Naoupu through for her third try of the day and with Mulhall converting, Ireland turned around with a 19-0 advantage. It should have been more but Baxter, having challenged well at the restart, was denied a late try by a knock-on near the line.
Three missed tackles allowed Iera Echebarria to strike back for Spain with a ninth-minute converted try, but Ireland seized control again to seal the result with a well-worked fourth touchdown. Hannah Tyrrell carried strongly before the ball was transferred back across the pitch for Williams to crash over in the left corner. Kim Flood knocked over a tremendous conversion to confirm the 19-point winning margin.
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 –
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 5 Ireland 24
Scorers: Ireland: Tries: Audrey O’Flynn, Megan Williams, Sene Naoupu 2; Cons: Lucy Mulhall 2
Team: Ashleigh Baxter, Audrey O’Flynn, Megan Williams, Stacey Flood, Sene Naoupu, Lucy Mulhall (capt), Louise Galvin.
Subs used: Claire Keohane, Hannah Tyrrell, Kim Flood.
Challenge Trophy Final: Ireland 26 Spain 7
Scorers: Ireland: Tries: Megan Williams 2, Stacey Flood, Sene Naoupu; Cons: Lucy Mulhall 2, Kim Flood
Team: Audrey O’Flynn, Megan Williams, Ashleigh Baxter, Lucy Mulhall (capt), Stacey Flood, Sene Naoupu, Louise Galvin.
Subs used: Hannah Tyrrell, Kim Flood. Not used: Claire Keohane.
For more information on the HSBC World Rugby Women’s Sevens Series, visit http://www.worldrugby.org/womens-sevens-series.