A much-changed Ireland Women’s Sevens squad kept up their top-eight form in the searing heat of Clermont-Ferrand despite missing their captain and a number of other regulars. They qualified for a Cup quarter-final clash with Canada tomorrow (12pm local time/11am Irish time).
Skipper Lucy Mulhall, Sene Naoupu, Ashleigh Baxter and Louise Galvin were all absent as Anthony Eddy gave youth its chance, with four teenagers and three HSBC World Rugby Women’s Sevens Series newcomers, including late call-up Niamh Byrne, featuring in the squad.
Already assured of their place in next season’s series, Ireland opened their win account at Stade Gabriel Montpied with a 26-5 victory over Japan, getting back on track after earlier defeats to the USA (12-7) and Pool A winners New Zealand (26-5). Their strong finish to day 1 was enough to guarantee their fourth top-eight finish in five World Series tournaments.
20-year-old play-maker Stacey Flood, who stepped up at out-half in the absence of Mulhall, is second in the DHL Performance Tracker rankings at the halfway stage in Clermont. She has 26 points courtesy of five tackles, two breaks, three offloads and 16 carries.
Stand-in captain Audrey O’Flynn, who topped the tackle count with 12, and Hannah Tyrrell also led by example, while the 18-year-old Katie Heffernan ran in her second World Series try and fellow youngsters Chloe Blackmore, Anna McGann and Claire Boles – all 19 – and late call-up Byrne (21), who was drafted in for the injured Emma Murphy, gained valuable game-time and experience.
A fine individual try from Stacey Flood in the second minute gave Ireland a 7-0 half-time lead in their pool opener. She darted through a gap from halfway after an initial break from Megan Williams had got her side on the move. The conversion was added by Kim Flood, who broke a tackle and went close to linking with O’Flynn in another try-scoring opportunity.
Despite dominating first half possession and territory, a second try eluded Ireland and that proved crucial as the USA produced a spirited fight-back. Alev Kelter had a big impact off the bench and the gap was down to two points by the 10th minute, a kick in behind and Jessica Javelet’s opportunist overhead pass putting Ryan Carlyle over for an unconverted try.
Individual errors were beginning to let Ireland down and after the USA defended well, Naya Tapper’s pace from a turnover was too much as she scored with her first touch. Nicole Heavirland converted and that proved to be the game’s decisive score, Ireland unable to respond despite a late surge which ended with Kelter tackling McGann into touch.
Series leaders New Zealand burst out of the blocks with an early Michaela Blyde try on their way to a 12-0 half-time lead. Ireland did manage to move the ball well at times but they failed to capitalise on a Ruby Tui yellow card, and Alena Saili punished Kim Flood’s high tackle with a try past the hooter.
Niall Williams stood up O’Flynn to run in the Black Ferns’ third try and Blyde completed her brace in the 13th minute, with Tyla Nathan-Wong landing both conversions. However, Ireland gained some late consolation with an O’Flynn effort in the right corner to reduce the arrears to 26-5. Byrne came on for her debut and cleared a couple of key rucks, and Boles, Heffernan and Blackmore were also involved in the build-up to the try.
Eddy’s charges returned to winning ways in the final round, racking up enough tries and points against Japan to progress to the Cup competition as one of the best third-placed teams. They got motoring in the opening half, outscoring the Japanese by three tries to one.
O’Flynn put in a huge shift, hoovering up a number of restarts and using her physicality to very good effect. From an early scrum, Tyrrell broke from her own half and beat the cover for a well-taken seven-pointer. Heffernan joined her on the scoresheet in the third minute, leaving a tackler in her dust and sprinting clear for a 12-0 advantage.
Williams was a central figure in the closing minutes of the first half, firstly throwing a dummy and galloping clear from halfway for Ireland’s third try before being sin-binned for not retreating at a penalty. Japan duly wore down the Irish defence for Raichieru Miyo Bativakalolo to touch down.
Nonetheless, Ireland wrestled back control straight from O’Flynn’s take of the Japanese restart. They conjured up their fourth and final try with 11 minutes on the clock, Tyrrell’s incisive run and offload out of a tackle releasing Amee-Leigh Murphy Crowe for her 19th try in this season’s series. Kim Flood, who kicked well throughout the day, sent over an excellent conversion to complete the scoring.
IRELAND WOMEN’S SEVENS Squad (HSBC World Rugby Women’s Sevens Series – Leg 6, Gabriel Montpied Stadium, Clermont-Ferrand, Saturday, June 24-Sunday, June 25):
Chloe Blackmore (St. Mary’s/Munster)
Claire Boles (Enniskillen/Ulster) *
Niamh Byrne (Railway Union/Leinster) *
Claire Keohane (UL Bohemians/Munster)
Stacey Flood (Railway Union/Leinster)
Kim Flood (Railway Union/Leinster)
Katie Heffernan (Mullingar/Railway Union (dual status)/Leinster)
Anna McGann (Buccaneers/UCD (dual status)/Leinster) *
Amee-Leigh Murphy Crowe (Railway Union/Munster)
Audrey O’Flynn (Ireland Sevens Programme) (capt)
Hannah Tyrrell (Old Belvedere/Leinster)
Megan Williams (St. Mary’s)
* Denotes uncapped player at this level
IRELAND WOMEN’S SEVENS Results/Fixtures –
Clermont 7s – Pool A:
Saturday, June 24
USA 12 Ireland 7, Gabriel Montpied Stadium
Scorers: Ireland: Try: Stacey Flood; Con: Kim Flood
Team: Kim Flood, Megan Williams, Audrey O’Flynn (capt), Claire Keohane, Hannah Tyrrell, Stacey Flood, Amee-Leigh Crowe.
Subs used: Katie Heffernan, Anna McGann, Claire Boles; Not used: Chloe Blackmore, Niamh Byrne.
New Zealand 26 Ireland 5, Gabriel Montpied Stadium
Scorers: Ireland: Try: Audrey O’Flynn
Team: Kim Flood, Megan Williams, Audrey O’Flynn (capt), Claire Keohane, Hannah Tyrrell, Stacey Flood, Amee-Leigh Murphy Crowe.
Subs used: Katie Heffernan, Chloe Blackmore, Claire Boles, Niamh Byrne; Not used: Anna McGann.
Ireland 26 Japan 5, Gabriel Montpied Stadium
Scorers: Ireland: Tries: Hannah Tyrrell, Katie Heffernan, Megan Williams, Amee-Leigh Murphy Crowe; Cons: Kim Flood 3
Team: Kim Flood, Megan Williams, Audrey O’Flynn (capt), Katie Heffernan, Stacey Flood, Amee-Leigh Murphy Crowe, Hannah Tyrrell.
Subs used: Claire Keohane, Claire Boles, Niamh Byrne; Not used: Anna McGann, Chloe Blackmore.
Sunday, June 25
Cup Quarter-Final: Canada v Ireland, Gabriel Montpied Stadium, 12pm local time/11am Irish time
For more information on the HSBC World Rugby Women’s Sevens Series, click here.