The Ireland Women will meet familiar foes Spain in tomorrow’s Cup quarter-finals at the Rugby Europe Sevens Grand Prix Series in Malemort, following an impressive three-match winning streak on the opening day.
Anthony Eddy’s side improved through the rounds to top Pool C, claiming only their second ever win over England (24-12) along the way. They also defeated Italy (22-7) and Portugal (47-7), but will face stiffer competition tomorrow when the podium positions are decided at Stade Raymond Faucher.
Flying winger Amee-Leigh Murphy Crowe was once again the scoring star, notching five tries including a memorable hat-trick against England. Stacey Flood and Ashleigh Baxter, who was rewarded for her support play, chipped in with a brace each.
There are two qualifying spots available for next summer’s Rugby World Cup Sevens tournament in San Francisco via the Grand Prix Series. Spain have qualified and both Russia and France are set to join them thanks to their World Series rankings, so that leaves Ireland and England battling it out for those two qualification places along with the likes of the Netherlands, Italy and Wales.
Conditions in Malemort were very hot with temperatures touching 30 degrees. Playing Italy in a scrappy first pool fixture, Stacey Flood’s third-minute try opened the scoring for Ireland. The returning Megan Williams cut inside two defenders and evaded a third to send the supporting Flood darting over from just outside the 22.
Ireland were defending deep in the Italian half for the most part but when an attack broke down between Sene Naoupu and Murphy Crowe, the Italians succeeded in putting Isabella Locatelli away for a converted score. However, the girls in green hit back past the hooter with a top class try, a beautiful floated pass from Naoupu inviting Williams up the left wing and her clever footwork fixed the final defender to make it 10-7.
A neat necklace of passes led to Audrey O’Flynn crossing wide on the right, early in the second period, and although let down by a few knock-ons and turnovers, Ireland wrapped up the result at 22-7 thanks to a late penalty try – awarded after captain Lucy Mulhall was pulled back by Sofia Stefan as she chased her own kick over the try-line.
Building solid foundations in the first half, Ireland were able to coast clear of a Portugal side that had lost 45-0 to England. Kim Flood gathered a bouncing pass on the 10-metre line and ghosted through a gap for the opener, two minutes in. Mulhall converted and it was her cheeky restart with the outside of the right boot that sent Murphy Crowe over for an immediate second try.
Mulhall ran in her first try of the weekend soon after, popping up twice in an incisive attack off an overthrown Portuguese lineout, and the gap was out to 26 points courtesy of a well-worked score in the left corner by Baxter via Kim Flood’s return pass.
Inside the opening minute of the second half, Murphy Crowe sped clear from deep to complete her brace and Ireland’s try count was at seven by the conclusion of their 40-point victory. Accurate passing from Claire Keohane, Stacey Flood and Katie Heffernan sent Louise Galvin galloping clear on the outside and in beside the posts, while a consolation score for Portugal was swiftly cancelled out by a classy long range try from Stacey Flood.
Keohane’s determination to prevent a breakaway Portuguese score in the final seconds summed up Ireland’s desire in defence, and in the pool decider with England, Eddy’s charges really had the bit between their teeth. The piston-like stride of Murphy Crowe burned a defender on the outside for a momentum-building first minute try, converted by Mulhall.
Ireland, who made history by beating their English counterparts in Langford recently, kicked on as shortly after the restart. Williams did really well to pinch possession at the breakdown, launch a solo bid for the line and then link up with the onrushing Baxter for a try just to the left of the posts. Terrier-like Irish tackling meant it took a lung-bursting set of phases for England to respond through Heather Fisher, cutting the gap to 14-5.
However, a try past the half-time hooter from Murphy Crowe, whose jinking run outfoxed the covering defender, put two converted scores between the sides, and the Tipperary speedster soon left another English player in her wake to complete a nifty nine-minute hat-trick. Ireland’s lone second half try was set up by good hands from Mulhall and Stacey Flood, with Naoupu seizing upon a loose ball in midfield initially.
Given their larger share of possession and territory, Ireland might have added to their tally in the closing minutes, but it was England who gained some late consolation in the form of a breakaway try from Natasha Brennan who chased down a kick and profited from a favourable bounce. Ireland still ended up with a double-scores win – 24-12 – and head into Sunday’s play-offs with plenty of confidence.
IRELAND WOMEN’S SEVENS Squad (Rugby Europe Women’s Sevens Grand Prix Series, Raymond Faucher Stadium, June 17-18):
Ashleigh Baxter (Cooke/Ulster)
Chloe Blackmore (St. Mary’s/Munster)
Claire Keohane (UL Bohemians/Munster)
Stacey Flood (Railway Union/Leinster)
Kim Flood (Railway Union/Leinster)
Louise Galvin (UL Bohemians/Munster)
Katie Heffernan (Mullingar/Railway Union (dual status)/Leinster)
Anna McGann (Buccaneers/UCD (dual status)/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 (St. Mary’s)
RUGBY EUROPE WOMEN’S SEVENS GRAND PRIX SERIES – MALEMORT 7s FIXTURES/RESULTS:
Saturday, June 17 – Pool C:
Ireland 22 Italy 7, Raymond Faucher Stadium
Scorers: Ireland: Tries: Stacey Flood, Megan Williams, Audrey O’Flynn, Penalty try/conversion
Team: Audrey O’Flynn, Megan Williams, Sene Naoupu, Stacey Flood, Amee-Leigh Murphy Crowe, Lucy Mulhall (capt), Louise Galvin.
Subs: Hannah Tyrrell, Ashleigh Baxter, Kim Flood, Claire Keohane, Katie Heffernan.
Ireland 47 Portugal 7, Raymond Faucher Stadium
Scorers: Ireland: Tries: Kim Flood, Amee-Leigh Murphy Crowe 2, Lucy Mulhall, Ashleigh Baxter, Louise Galvin, Stacey Flood; Cons: Lucy Mulhall 4, Kim Flood 2
Team: Kim Flood, Megan Williams, Ashleigh Baxter, Claire Keohane, Amee-Leigh Murphy Crowe, Lucy Mulhall (capt), Hannah Tyrrell.
Subs: Audrey O’Flynn, Stacey Flood, Sene Naoupu, Louise Galvin, Katie Heffernan.
England 12 Ireland 24, Raymond Faucher Stadium
Scorers: Ireland: Tries: Amee-Leigh Murphy Crowe 3, Ashleigh Baxter; Cons: Lucy Mulhall 2
Team: Audrey O’Flynn, Megan Williams, Ashleigh Baxter, Stacey Flood, Amee-Leigh Murphy Crowe, Lucy Mulhall (capt), Louise Galvin.
Subs: Hannah Tyrrell, Sene Naoupu, Claire Keohane, Kim Flood, Katie Heffernan.
Sunday, June 18:
Cup Quarter-Final: Ireland v Spain, Raymond Faucher Stadium, kick-off 10.44am local time/9.44am Irish time