Three new caps helped Ireland round off the HSBC World Rugby Women’s Sevens Series with a best ever final ranking of ninth – a jump of three places and 23 series points from last year’s series.
Anna McGann, Claire Boles and Niamh Byrne made their debuts as the Ireland Women claimed eighth place in the final leg of the series in Clermont-Ferrand, and the message is very much ‘onwards and upwards’ with Anthony Eddy’s side, who will be a core team again in 2017/18, poised to clinch Rugby World Cup Sevens qualification in Kazan in two weeks’ time.
Ireland had a winless second day at Stade Gabriel Montpied, losing out to Canada (31-0), the USA (31-14) and Russia (19-14), but there were plenty of positives to take – particularly from the latter two performances in which Boles crossed for her first World Series try and the prolific Amee-Leigh Murphy Crowe ran in her 20th and 21st tries of the six-tournament series.
Murphy Crowe, still just 22, has emerged as one of the best finishers on the circuit. In all, she has scored 31 tries in 54 series appearances – a superb strike rate of 1.74 tries per game – while talented 20-year-old Stacey Flood was Ireland’s star performer in Clermont, proving to be a very able deputy at out-half for sidelined captain Lucy Mulhall.
Wicklow woman Mulhall led by example from the Dubai series opener through to Langford last month. She finished fifth on the overall DHL Performance Tracker chart (235 points – 71 tackles/9 breaks/12 offloads/143 carries), mixing it with the world’s leading players.
Canada were too strong in the morning’s Cup quarter-final, running out 31-0 winners despite a committed effort from the girls in green. Well-organised Irish defence forced three forward passes, thwarting some promising Canadian attacks, before Ghislaine Landry scored from a well-worked move off a fifth-minute scrum.
Ireland trailed 12-0 at the turnaround, Canada reacting quickest to a ball which squirted out of a ruck and despite good covering from Kim Flood, an offload released Bianca Farella for the line. Landry, who turned the defence inside and out, and Farella completed their braces in the second half.
The Canadians were clinical in taking their scoring chances, using their athleticism and strong running to create opportunities, and a fifth and final try saw their passing stretch Ireland as Megan Lukan was released for another seven-pointer.
Eddy changed the starting line-up for the 5th-8th place play-off against the USA, bringing in Boles, McGann and Claire Keohane. Stand-in captain Audrey O’Flynn had sustained a hip injury and sat out the final two games. Ireland got off to a good start, Hannah Tyrrell breaking from a ruck and linking with Stacey Flood who darted up to the American 10-metre line but was hauled down.
Some key decisions by referee Saurako Kawaski went against Ireland, including a questionable ruck penalty from which a quick tap saw Jessica Javelet touch down. Nicole Heavirland converted and added a second late try before half-time, as missed tackles cost Ireland.
Alev Kelter stepped away from three Irish defenders in the build-up to Joanne Fa’avesi’s eighth-minute try, but Stacey Flood spearheaded a brilliant Irish attack in response. She broke from a quickly-taken penalty, Tyrrell gained further ground before Flood fed Ulster starlet Boles to crash over near the right corner. Keohane struck a terrific conversion for 19-7 scoreline.
The USA did have the final say, weighing in with two more tries from Mata Hingano and Naya Tapper. However, in between, Murphy-Crowe ran in one of the tries of the season, collecting a restart deep in her 22 and backing herself as he sliced through the defensive line and rounded the sweeper for a stunning 95-metre solo effort, converted by Keohane.
Ireland fielded a mostly inexperienced team for their Clermont finale against Russia, with five of the starters aged between 18 and 21. A call by an assistant referee saw newcomer Byrne sin-binned for a neck roll in the fifth minute, and the Russians took advantage with tries from Arina Bystrova and Daria Noritsina.
The second try, past the half-time hooter, was followed by an early second half effort from Noritsina again, as she used the space on the outside to get past McGann. Now 19 points in arrears, Stacey Flood, Tyrrell and Murphy Crowe were all introduced off the bench and had key roles in a spirited Irish comeback.
Tyrrell got in at the breakdown to force a penalty, Flood’s tap-and-go putting Russia on the retreat and she passed swiftly for Murphy Crowe to finish off in the left corner. The strong-running Katie Heffernan had made good headway beforehand, and Kim Flood whipped over a fantastic conversion to top off the try.
A terrific individual try from Stacey Flood drew Ireland to within five points (19-14). She backed herself from a quick tap, showing nice footwork and a turn of pace to ghost in between two defenders. Keohane converted with 30 seconds left. 14 points is the highest score Ireland has mustered in series meetings with Russia, and unfortunately they could not manufacture a match winner right at the death with Boles bundled into touch just inside the Russian 22.
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 –
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 31 Ireland 0, Gabriel Montpied Stadium
Scorers: Ireland: –
Team: Kim Flood, Megan Williams, Audrey O’Flynn (capt), Hannah Tyrrell, Stacey Flood, Amee-Leigh Murphy Crowe, Katie Heffernan.
Subs used: Claire Keohane, Anna McGann, Chloe Blackmore, Claire Boles, Niamh Byrne.
5th-8th Place Play-Off: Ireland 14 USA 31, Gabriel Montpied Stadium
Scorers: Ireland: Tries: Claire Boles, Amee-Leigh Murphy Crowe; Cons: Claire Keohane 2
Team: Kim Flood, Megan Williams, Claire Boles, Anna McGann, Hannah Tyrrell, Stacey Flood (capt), Claire Keohane.
Subs used: Katie Heffernan, Amee-Leigh Murphy Crowe, Chloe Blackmore, Niamh Byrne.
7th-8th Place Play-Off: Ireland 14 Russia 19, Gabriel Montpied Stadium
Scorers: Ireland: Tries: Amee-Leigh Murphy Crowe, Stacey Flood; Cons: Kim Flood, Claire Keohane
Team: Kim Flood, Claire Boles, Chloe Blackmore, Niamh Byrne, Anna McGann, Katie Heffernan, Claire Keohane (capt).
Subs used: Amee-Leigh Murphy Crowe, Stacey Flood, Megan Williams, Hannah Tyrrell.
For more information on the HSBC World Rugby Women’s Sevens Series, click here.