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Successive Defeats Take Shine Off Ireland’s Promising Start In Kitakyushu

Successive Defeats Take Shine Off Ireland’s Promising Start In Kitakyushu

Ireland began day one of the HSBC World Rugby Women’s Sevens Series tournament in Kitakyushu on a real high, defeating close rivals Spain in a thrilling five-try clash, but their challenge for a Cup quarter-final berth petered out with losses to number one seeds Australia and China, the recent Hong Kong qualifier winners.

Coached by Stan McDowell for the Japanese leg of the World Series, it was a day of ups and downs for the Ireland Women who were desperately disappointed to fall out of the top-eight after their impressive seventh place finish in Sydney in January.

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Kathy Baker’s debut was one of the positives to take forward from the pool stages in Kitakyushu, with the 19-year-old making three appearances off the bench and quickly finding her feet. However, Ireland’s winning start against Spain – tries from Amee-Leigh Murphy Crowe, Louise Galvin and Stacey Flood secured a 17-14 success – was overshadowed by frustrating defeats to Australia (31-0) and China (24-12).

Finishing bottom of Pool A leaves the girls in green with only the Challenge Trophy to aim for tomorrow. They return to the resplendent Mikuni World Stadium pitch to play Canada at 12.20pm local time/4.20am Irish time, with the winners taking on either the USA or Japan in the final.

Ireland and Spain were eighth and seventh in the World Series standings heading in this tournament, and it was just as tight on the pitch in their Kitakyushu 7s opener. Having dominated possession from the kick-off with Galvin and Audrey O’Flynn carrying strongly, Murphy Crowe gave her side the lead with a try in the left corner via Flood’s quick tap.

Ireland’s positive start continued thanks to Murphy Crowe winning a penalty at the breakdown. Scrum half Flood kept the tempo high and Katie Fitzhenry broke a tackle to run hard over halfway and pass for the supporting Galvin to burn off Patricia Garcia and score under the posts. Captain Lucy Mulhall’s conversion made it 12-0.

Spain hit back before the half-time hooter, moving the ball well for Marina Bravo to convert an overlap on the left wing into seven points. They edged ahead early in the second half, getting on the front foot through Garcia and captain Barbara Pla before Bravo provided the assist for a well-worked Maria Casado try.

Garcia’s conversion gave the Spanish a 14-12 lead, but Ireland responded with a high-quality third touchdown. Mulhall attacked from the base of a ruck, drew in two defenders and her pass on the switch launched Flood through a gap and she handed off Maria Losada to score from 40 metres out. Mulhall missed the conversion but Ireland exerted the greater control in the final minutes, aided by Flood’s efforts at the breakdown to force an important penalty.

Despite another positive opening spell, Ireland were unable to truly trouble World Series leaders and Olympic champions Australia. Emma Tonegato was afforded far too much room when bursting clear from halfway for a try after two minutes, which Emma Sykes converted with aplomb from the left wing.

A neat dummy and break from Fitzhenry brought Ireland up towards the Australian 22, and although a subsequent pass from Mulhall was intercepted, Fitzhenry’s rip in the tackle led to an encouraging set of phases in the Australian half. Galvin was an offload away from putting Murphy Crowe sprinting up the left touchline for a potential try, but Ireland were stung by a late breakaway score, Tonegato’s pass back inside bouncing up nicely for Emilee Cherry to strike right on half-time.

Leading 12-0 at the break and having had limited ball, Australia showed their clinical edge with three more unanswered tries. Their indiscipline invited Ireland forward, yet a knock-on from O’Flynn let them off the hook and a break from deep saw Cherry run in her second score.

They let the ball do the work again, stretching the Irish defence for Georgina Friedrichs, who took a return delivery from captain Shannon Parry, to scamper clear for try number four, and fellow replacement Cassandra Staples adding a flattering fifth with a flying finish, rounding in from wide on the left.

Having gone close to beating Spain in the previous round, losing 19-17 in the end, China posed quite a threat to Ireland in the final round. McDowell’s charges knew that a return to winning ways would put them through to the Cup quarter-finals, but they fell behind to Wan Yu Wang’s try in the second minute.

Xiaoming Yu’s kick through caused trouble for the Irish defence, the same player getting her boot to the ball to nudge it over the try-line. Neither Yu or Murphy Crowe were able to ground it, leaving the onrushing Wang to dot down unopposed for an opportunist score, converted by Yu.

All seven players handled the ball in an excellent try in response from Ireland, with the attack owing much to offloads from Murphy Crowe and Galvin and the link play and skip pass provided by Flood. O’Flynn was released near the left touchline and she outpaced Min Yang from halfway for a levelling seven-pointer.

Mulhall gave away cheap possession with a miscued restart, and China made her pay. A pacy attack had Ireland scrambling in defence and Wang’s well-timed pass gave Keyi Chen the chance to step inside Mulhall and notch her side’s second converted try for a 14-7 lead. A third almost followed before the interval, but they were thwarted by a knock-on.

The Chinese continued to look the better outfit on the resumption, catching out the Irish defence on the edges and moving the ball with pace and precision with some clever wraparounds. Chen had a strong burst up the left wing before play was swung out to the right where Yu did well to finish in the corner despite Mulhall’s despairing tackle.

The Irish errors kept coming, Galvin knocking on the restart and another Chinese wraparound created a two-and-one which saw Chen complete her brace with nine minutes on the clock. Now 24-7 in arrears, it was newcomer Baker who got Ireland firing again, her break from inside her own half leading to a try as Mulhall shifted the ball wide to Murphy Crowe whose offload out of a tackle put replacement Katie Heffernan stretching over.

Time was not on Ireland’s side and Murphy Crowe’s knock-on from a Mulhall pass halted their momentum, allowing China to play down the clock and claim the scalp of a core team just two weeks on from securing their place in next season’s World Series.

The Kitakyushu 7s are taking place at the Mikuni World Stadium this weekend, with the knockout stages beginning tomorrow. The games will be streamed live on www.worldrugby.org and the World Rugby Sevens Facebook page.

The Ireland Sevens jerseys are available to buy online here from Elverys Intersport, official sports retailer of the IRFU.

IRELAND WOMEN’S SEVENS Squad (2017/18 HSBC World Rugby Women’s Sevens Series – Kitakyushu 7s, Mikuni World Stadium, Kitakyushu, Japan, Saturday, April 21-Sunday, April 22):

Ashleigh Baxter (Cooke/Ulster)
Kathy Baker (Blackrock/Leinster) *
Katie Fitzhenry (Blackrock/Leinster)
Stacey Flood (Railway Union/Leinster)
Katie Heffernan (Mullingar/Railway Union/Leinster)
Louise Galvin (UL Bohemians/Munster)
Eve Higgins (Railway Union/Leinster)
Lucy Mulhall (Rathdrum) (capt)
Amee-Leigh Murphy Crowe (Railway Union/Munster)
Deirbhile Nic a Bhaird (UL Bohemians/Munster)
Audrey O’Flynn (Ireland Sevens)
Hannah Tyrrell (Old Belvedere/Leinster)

* Denotes uncapped player at this level


Saturday, April 21 –

Pool A:

Spain 14 Ireland 17, Mikuni World Stadium
Scorers: Ireland: Tries: Amee-Leigh Murphy Crowe, Louise Galvin, Stacey Flood; Con: Lucy Mulhall

Team: Audrey O’Flynn, Ashleigh Baxter, Katie Fitzhenry, Stacey Flood, Amee-Leigh Murphy Crowe, Lucy Mulhall (capt), Louise Galvin.

Subs used: Kathy Baker, Hannah Tyrrell. Not used: Katie Heffernan, Eve Higgins, Deirbhile Nic a Bhaird.

Australia 31 Ireland 0, Mikuni World Stadium
Scorers: Ireland: –

Team: Audrey O’Flynn, Ashleigh Baxter, Katie Fitzhenry, Stacey Flood, Amee-Leigh Murphy Crowe, Lucy Mulhall (capt), Louise Galvin.

Subs used: Kathy Baker, Hannah Tyrrell. Not used: Katie Heffernan, Eve Higgins, Deirbhille Nic a Bhaird.

Ireland 12 China 24, Mikuni World Stadium
Scorers: Ireland: Tries: Audrey O’Flynn, Katie Heffernan; Con: Lucy Mulhall

Team: Audrey O’Flynn, Ashleigh Baxter, Katie Fitzhenry, Stacey Flood, Amee-Leigh Murphy Crowe, Lucy Mulhall (capt), Louise Galvin.

Subs used: Kathy Baker, Hannah Tyrrell, Katie Heffernan, Eve Higgins. Not used: Deirbhile Nic a Bhaird.

Sunday, April 22 –

Challenge Trophy Semi-Final: Canada v Ireland, Mikuni World Stadium, 12.20pm local time/4.20am Irish time

Kitakyushu 7s – HSBC World Rugby Women’s Sevens Series Results/Fixtures/Pools

Follow the Ireland Women’s and Men’s Sevens teams this season in our exclusive behind the scenes series – On The Road with the Ireland 7s.

For more information on the HSBC World Rugby Women’s Sevens Series, visit www.worldrugby.org/sevens-series.