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Mulhall: Young Ireland Sevens Squad Has ‘Massive Potential’

Mulhall: Young Ireland Sevens Squad Has ‘Massive Potential’

Two last-minute tries prevented Ireland from challenging for top honours at the Rugby Europe Under-18 Women’s Sevens Championship In Vichy yesterday, but coach Lucy Mulhall predicts a bright future ahead for her young and talented squad.

Having topped Pool A on Saturday, claiming the scalp of tournament hosts France along the way, Ireland conceded a late match winner to Wales in yesterday morning’s Cup quarter-final and unfortunately endured a similar fate in the Plate decider against Canada. However, a sixth place finish and a record of four wins out of six on Europe’s biggest stage, with 20 tries scored, is still something to be really proud of.

Lucy Mulhall, who coached all bar three of the Vichy squad to the UK School Games title a fortnight ago, said: “Looking back on the weekend we started really well and played some really exciting rugby but will be disappointed not to be playing up there with the top four in the semi-finals.

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“What is really pleasing for us is that we’ve a very young squad and massive potential within it. These are not only a talented bunch but incredibly hard working and driven girls, so I can’t wait to see what the future holds for them and for Irish Women’s rugby. A massive thank you to all of the family members and supporters who travelled to France and cheered on the girls throughout the weekend.”

Captain Emily Lane from Mallow showed excellent leadership skills over the two days, uniting the team behind her, while Railway Union’s Eve Higgins top-scored with an excellent haul of nine tries – including a hat-trick against Italy – and 59 points in all. Megan Burns from Tullamore and Tullow’s Anna Doyle chipped in with four and three tries respectively.

Good movement and passing inside the opening minute of the Pool A opener against Italy set up a quick-fire try for Higgins, who used a nice fend to score from the left wing. Forwards Dororthy Wall and Enya Breen got over the gain-line with strong carries, before Stephanie Nunan, who played in last year’s Rugby Europe tournament along with Lane and Breen, broke from halfway to double Ireland’s lead in the fifth minute – 10-0.

An excellent tackle and steal by Burns won back possession for Ireland soon after the restart. A minute in, they registered their third unconverted try when Burns stooped low to collect Wall’s pass out of a tackle and race away up the left wing for a well-taken score.

Higgins knifed through the Italian defence with some nifty footwork, converting the 10th minute try herself, before Aoibheann Reilly used lineout possession to dart through a gap and almost make the line herself. The ball was quickly recycled and the ever-alert Higgins threw a dummy to complete her hat-trick by the posts.

The only blot on Ireland’s copybook was the concession of a try past the hooter, the hard-working Italians managing to win turnover ball from a scrum and break down the blindside for a consolation five-pointer. Still, 27-5 was a convincing victory for Ireland and a very solid start to the competition.

The girls in green came up against France in round 2 and swiftly fell five points behind. Backed by a partisan home crowd, the French pinned Ireland back in their own half. A knock-on denied them a second try, while Lane led Ireland’s response, making a break up towards halfway and then flooring a French move with an inspirational try-saving tackle.

There were further positive signs as a Higgins break before half-time saw her connect with Burns, who was unfortunately tackled into touch, and Nunan and Lane combined to quickly win a penalty on the resumption, in an advanced position. Just 45 seconds of the second half had elapsed when the elusive Doyle caught the French defence out with a clever run in under the posts for Higgins to convert.

Ireland were now on top, dictating play with improved cohesion and interplay and with the likes of Wall and Higgins making the hard yards. Three minutes in, Burns showed her class with a dummy that caught two defenders out on their 10-metre line. She then sped through the hole she created and broke clear of a covering player to make it 14-5.

A fine comeback was completed by Higgins’ fourth try of the opening day. Nunan was hoisted highest by her Munster colleagues Breen and Wall to steal a French lineout, possession was transferred into midfield where Higgins caught the attention of three defenders but picked her moment to slip through a gap and touch down wide on the right.

Ireland duly wrapped up Pool A with their third straight victory, defeating a game Swedish side 24-0. Mulhall took the opportunity to give a few players their first starts, including Reilly whose try-saving tackle avoided an early concession with Burns soon hacking downfield.

Doyle opened the scoring in the third minute, using two hand-offs to break free and scamper in under the posts. Breen converted and increased her influence with a well-won poach at the breakdown, setting the wheels in motion for a free-flowing move involving Ellie Ingram, Reilly and Kelly McCormill which ended with Burns crashing over to the left of the posts – 12-0.

Into the second half, Monaghan’s Lucinda Kinghan stepped inside two defenders and arced her run perfectly to score a superb solo try from the Swedish 10-metre line. Unfortunately, she injured her left ankle in the act of scoring and her tournament came to disappointingly early end.

Kinghan’s Ulster colleague Ingram narrowly missed out on a try soon after, but the scoring was completed by a neatly-taken seven-pointer from Reilly who stepped off her right and turned on the afterburners to dart clear from just inside the Irish half. In between, Burns ensured Sweden stayed scoreless by tracking back and hauling down a probable try scorer.

Day 2 began with an early morning quarter-final against Wales, a repeat of the sides’ recent UK School Games final which Ireland won 19-10. It was advantage Ireland after just 40 seconds of the rematch, two successive tackles from the hard-working Burns, coupled with a Lane steal on the deck, setting up a pacy attack which saw Higgins cross wide on the left.

Wales were quick to respond, breaking into scoring range straight from the restart and they touched down off a penalty shortly afterwards. A penalty for a neck-high tackle on Higgins was eventually awarded, following the input of a touch judge, but a missed touch and then a costly ruck penalty saw Wales work numbers on the right for their second try and a 10-5 interval lead.

There were some tight and frenetic exchanges before great disruption in the lineout from Doyle led to Wall gobbling up the loose ball. Doyle drove forward to gain a few more metres before possession was swept into midfield when Burns attacked out to the right, nipping in between two defenders to bring Ireland level. Her try was converted by Higgins to edge Mulhall’s charges in front.

It was all hands to the pump as Wales came hurtling back. A couple of decisions and non-decisions from referee Katie Ritchie went against Ireland, and although a terrific tackle from Higgins appeared to have kept the Welsh out, the ball went loose from Lane’s attempted short lineout, evaded the Irish skipper’s grasp and was hacked through for a sucker-punch match-winning score (15-12).

In increasingly wet conditions, Ireland picked themselves up for a Plate semi-final clash with the USA, one of two guest teams in Vichy. Higgins showed her class again, scooping up a loose ball near halfway, throwing a dummy and setting off for the line, leaving four defenders in her wake. She added the conversion for good measure.

A leaping Breen retained possession from the restart and Burns was soon breaking over halfway having slipped out of a tackle. She reached the 22 before passing for the supporting McCormill to score to the right of the posts. 10-0 is how it stayed up to half-time, with Burns, Lane and Wall all wielding plenty of influence.

A marginal call went against Ireland on the restart, as Nunan had a try ruled out for a foot in touch. She ran a great support line after an initial break from deep by Burns, who continued to cover a huge amount of ground as the Irish player with the most game minutes.

A steal on the deck by Reilly got Ireland back on the attack, Higgins showing great awareness to find a soft shoulder and open up the American defence before outpacing the final defender to make it 15-0. A consolation score for the Americans reduced the margin to eight points by the finish.

Having got back to winning ways, Ireland closed out the competition against Canada whose pace and physicality helped them get off to a flying start. They ran in three first half tries, leaving the girls in green playing catch-up. Nonetheless, Ireland’s persistence paid off just before the interval when Higgins dashed through for a hard-earned try, which came on the back of good running from Breen, Lane and Meabh Deely with Canada coughing up a series of penalties.

A 17-7 deficit was turned into a 21-7 lead as Ireland’s rousing fight-back continued in the second half. Their handling was impressive as they stretched Canada out to the right and left, with Higgins then picking up off the base of a ruck and stepping past a defender to claw back another seven points.

Ireland hit the front in the final minute, Doyle leaving a defender for dead to touch down behind the posts after Canada had a player sin-binned. Lane was everywhere before that, combining with Burns to almost put Reilly away for a score and then winning a penalty at the breakdown before the yellow card.

However, after Higgins’ conversion, Ireland’s joy turned to despair when Canada broke free up the left wing to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat. Lane and her team-mates were crestfallen but they can be immensely proud of their performances over the weekend which show again what promising futures they have in the game.

Discounting the two guest teams from outside the continent, the Ireland U-18s secured a final ranking of fifth at the European Championship. The elite European sides, including Ireland, will now target the 2018 Youth Olympic Games qualifying tournament which will be held by Rugby Europe in April/May next year.

Rugby Europe U-18 Women’s Sevens – Full Pools & Results

IRELAND UNDER-18 WOMEN’S SEVENS Squad (2017 Rugby Europe Under-18 Women’s Sevens Championship, Stade Darragon, Vichy, France, Saturday, September 16-Sunday, September 17):

Meabh Deely (Ballinasloe RFC/Connacht)
Aoibheann Reilly (Ballinasloe RFC/Connacht)
Eve Higgins (Railyway Union RFC/Leinster)
Megan Burns (Tullamore RFC/Leinster)
Anna Doyle (Tullow RFC/Leinster)
Enya Breen (Bantry Bay RFC/Munster)
Emily Lane (Mallow/Munster) (capt)
Stephanie Nunan (St. Mary’s RFC, Limerick/Munster)
Dorothy Wall (Fethard RFC/Munster)
Ellie Ingram (Enniskillen RFC/Ulster)
Lucinda Kinghan (Monaghan RFC/Ulster)
Kelly McCormill (Monaghan RFC/Ulster)


Head Coach – Lucy Mulhall
Women’s Sevens Programme Manager – Eimear Flannery
Team Manager – Elaine Ryan
Physiotherapist – Niamh Connelly


Day 1 – Saturday, September 16:

Pool A –

ITALY U-18s 5 IRELAND U-18s 27, Stade Darragon, Vichy
Scorers: Ireland: Tries: Eve Higgins 3, Stephanie Nunan, Megan Burns; Con: Eve Higgins

Team: Dorothy Wall, Enya Breen, Megan Burns, Stephanie Nunan, Emily Lane (capt), Eve Higgins, Meabh Deely.

Subs used: Kelly McCormill, Aoibheann Reilly, Anna Doyle, Lucinda Kinghan, Ellie Ingram.

FULL VIDEO REPLAY – ITALY 5 IRELAND 27 (1:34:16-1:54:25) by Rugby Europe

FRANCE U-18s 5 IRELAND U-18s 19, Stade Darragon, Vichy
Scorers: Ireland: Tries: Anna Doyle, Megan Burns, Eve Higgins; Cons: Eve Higgins 2

Team: Dorothy Wall, Enya Breen, Megan Burns, Kelly McCormill, Emily Lane (capt), Eve Higgins, Meabh Deely.

Subs used: Stephanie Nunan, Anna Doyle, Lucinda Kinghan, Ellie Ingram.

FULL VIDEO REPLAY – FRANCE 5 IRELAND 19 (1:48:47-2:07:50) by Rugby Europe

IRELAND U-18s 24 SWEDEN U-18s 0, Stade Darragon, Vichy
Scorers: Ireland: Tries: Anna Doyle, Megan Burns, Lucinda Kinghan, Aoibheann Reilly; Cons: Enya Breen, Meabh Deely

Team: Enya Breen (capt), Megan Burns, Kelly McCormill, Aoibheann Reilly, Anna Doyle, Lucinda Kinghan, Ellie Ingram.

Subs used: Dorothy Wall, Stephanie Nunan, Meabh Deely.

FULL VIDEO REPLAY – IRELAND 24 SWEDEN 0 (1:29:18-1:48:43) by Rugby Europe

Day 2 – Sunday, September 17:

Cup Quarter-Final –

IRELAND U-18s 12 WALES U-18s 15, Stade Darragon, Vichy
Scorers: Ireland: Tries: Eve Higgins, Megan Burns; Con: Eve Higgins

Team: Dorothy Wall, Enya Breen, Megan Burns, Kelly McCormill, Emily Lane (capt), Eve Higgins, Meabh Deely.

Subs used: Aoibheann Reilly, Stephanie Nunan, Anna Doyle.

FULL VIDEO REPLAY – IRELAND 12 WALES 15 (3:47-23:30) by Rugby Europe

Plate Semi-Final –

IRELAND U-18s 15 USA U-18s 7, Stade Darragon, Vichy
Scorers: Ireland: Tries: Eve Higgins 2, Kelly McCormill

Team: Dorothy Wall, Enya Breen, Megan Burns, Kelly McCormill, Emily Lane (capt), Eve Higgins, Meabh Deely.

Subs used: Aoibheann Reilly, Stephanie Nunan, Anna Doyle, Ellie Ingram.

FULL VIDEO REPLAY – IRELAND 15 USA 7 (4:11-25:26) by Rugby Europe

Plate Final –

IRELAND U-18s 21 CANADA U-18s 24, Stade Darragon, Vichy
Scorers: Ireland: Tries: Eve Higgins 2, Anna Doyle; Cons: Eve Higgins 3

Team: Dorothy Wall, Enya Breen, Megan Burns, Kelly McCormill, Emily Lane (capt), Eve Higgins, Meabh Deely.

Subs used: Aoibheann Reilly, Stephanie Nunan, Anna Doyle, Ellie Ingram.

FULL VIDEO REPLAY – IRELAND 21 CANADA 24 (27:03-50:00) by Rugby Europe