Ireland will meet a young Spain team in tomorrow’s Cup quarter-finals after topping Pool B in convincing fashion on day one of the Rugby Europe Women’s Sevens Grand Prix Series tournament in Marcoussis, France.
Anthony Eddy’s charges emerged from the pool stages as the top points and try scorers – 130 points and 22 tries – following big wins over Scotland (41-7), Poland (44-0) and Wales (45-0). Amee-Leigh Murphy Crowe led the try-scoring with six tries, following by Aoife Doyle and Louise Galvin with four each.
Murphy Crowe, Ashleigh Baxter, who recently became Ireland’s most-capped Sevens international, and Galvin were all hat-trick heroines as Ireland went on to dominate a pool which had a distinct Celtic flavour. Scotland, who gained promotion back to the top-tier series as Trophy winners last summer, were first up.
Ireland showed their greater levels of experience and firepower when finishing a clutch of first half chances to establish a 31-7 half-time lead. Speedsters Doyle and Murphy Crowe claimed unconverted scores before captain Lucy Mulhall converted efforts from Stacey Flood, Galvin and Murphy Crowe, with Chloe Rollie notching Scotland’s lone try.
Murphy Crowe scored 18 tries when Ireland finished second in last year’s European Series, and she continued to show her predatory instincts by completing her hat-trick early in the second half. Eve Higgins, the youngest member of the squad at 19, came off the bench to run in the seventh and final try of a runaway victory.
The searing French heat was touching 30 degrees but Ireland backed up their opening performance with an equally strong display against Poland. Murphy Crowe touched down wide on the right inside the opening minute, the beneficiary of a well-timed pass from Mulhall just as she was tackled.
Higgins then ran in unopposed from just inside the Irish half, profiting from good work by Deirbhile Nic a Bhaird, Mulhall and Flood to release her. Murphy Crowe’s tigerish tackle and competing on the ground forced a knock-on soon after, and from the subsequent scrum, the ball was sent wide for the Tipperary flyer to beat a defender on the outside and make it 17-0.
Baxter added two quick-fire tries before the turnaround, firstly showing her speed and determination to nudge on a loose ball from the restart and ground it to the left of the posts. She completed her brace past the hooter, with Mulhall providing the assist after Flood had won a textbook penalty at the breakdown.
27-0 at the break turned into 32-0 by the nine-minute mark as Baxter’s lovely footwork to step inside the final defender took her over wide on the left. Two minutes later, Katie Fitzhenry did the donkey work to secure a turnover penalty and Doyle’s swift sidestep saw her spring over to the right of the posts.
The try-scoring was wrapped up by Doyle in the final seconds, with Fitzhenry again forcing a turnover in the build-up and Galvin supplying the assist with an inviting pass in the Polish 22. Wales also won their first two games against Poland (15-14) and Scotland (25-12), setting up a winner-takes-all clash for top spot in Pool B.
Galvin was the dominant figure against the Welsh, helping herself to a hat-trick of tries and repeatedly soaring highest to secure restart possession for Ireland. The multi-talented Kerry woman used a strong hand off to break through for the opening try at the tail-end of the opening minute, with Mulhall converting.
Eddy’s side built scoreboard pressure with a succession of well-constructed scores, Audrey O’Flynn gaining a well-won penalty at the breakdown and Galvin using some neat footwork and a long stretch to get the ball down for try number two and a 12-0 advantage.
Galvin’s huge influence continued as she tapped down the restart, and although the ball went loose after some promising interplay between Flood and Mulhall, Murphy Crowe managed to hoover it up and glide in between two defenders to score by the posts. Mulhall converted and also added the extras to Galvin’s hat-trick effort which saw her display her strength and pace off the mark to unlock the midfield defence.
Ireland entered the second half with a 31-0 lead thanks to Fitzhenry’s late finish in the left corner, the product of a turnover penalty from Flood, and the team’s hard running and accurate long passing continued to cause problems for Wales on the resumption.
Doyle was twice tackled into touch as she threatened to outpace the Welsh defence, but Ireland did manage to add two more tries. Galvin pinched a lineout and Doyle was fed in midfield, swiftly breaking inside and outside a couple of defenders to cross the whitewash from close range.
Mulhall split the posts from straight in front and converted her own try with the final kick of the game. Ireland’s defensive pressure had Wales pinned back and under intense pressure late on. They forced a five-metre scrum and Higgins passed for Mulhall to attack the line, break a tackle and scramble over just beside the posts.
Ireland’s trio of day-one victories, which sets up a quarter-final tomorrow against Spain (kick-off 11.44am local time/10.44am Irish time), was matched by Russia (21 tries) and hosts France (18) who also enjoyed unbeaten runs as Pool A and C winners respectively.
England, who lost 26-14 to the French in their final pool match, were another team to catch the eye in the opening rounds, scoring 12 tries as pool runners-up. Tomorrow’s knockout stages will be streamed live by Rugby Europe on www.rugbyeurope.tv.
The Ireland Men’s and Women’s Sevens teams will both compete at the Rugby World Cup Sevens in San Francisco over the weekend of July 20-22 at AT&T Park. RWC Sevens tickets are available here.
The Ireland Sevens jerseys are available to buy online here from Elverys Intersport, official sports retailer of the IRFU.
– Rugby Europe Sevens Grand Prix Series photos by Neil Kennedy
IRELAND WOMEN’S SEVENS Squad (2018 Rugby Europe Women’s Sevens Grand Prix Series – Round 1, Centre National de Rugby, Marcoussis, France, Friday, June 29-Saturday, June 30):
Kathy Baker (Blackrock/Leinster)
Ashleigh Baxter (Cooke/Ulster)
Aoife Doyle (Shannon/Railway Union/Munster)
Katie Fitzhenry (Blackrock/Leinster)
Stacey Flood (Railway Union/Leinster)
Louise Galvin (UL Bohemians/Munster)
Katie Heffernan (Mullingar/Railway Union/Leinster)
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 Programme)
IRELAND WOMEN’S SEVENS RESULTS/FIXTURES – RUGBY EUROPE SEVENS GRAND PRIX SERIES: ROUND 1:
Friday, June 29 –
Ireland 41 Scotland 7, Centre National de Rugby, Marcoussis
Scorers: Ireland: Tries: Aoife Doyle, Amee-Leigh Murphy Crowe 3, Stacey Flood, Louise Galvin, Eve Higgins; Cons: Lucy Mulhall 3
Team: Ashleigh Baxter, Katie Fitzhenry, Louise Galvin, Stacey Flood, Lucy Mulhall (capt), Aoife Doyle, Amee-Leigh Murphy Crowe.
Subs: Audrey O’Flynn, Deirbhile Nic a Bhaird, Kathy Baker, Eve Higgins, Katie Heffernan.
Ireland 44 Poland 0, Centre National de Rugby, Marcoussis
Scorers: Ireland: Tries: Amee-Leigh Murphy Crowe 2, Eve Higgins, Ashleigh Baxter 3, Aoife Doyle 2; Cons: Lucy Mulhall, Eve Higgins
Team: Deirbhile Nic a Bhaird, Ashleigh Baxter, Katie Fitzhenry, Stacey Flood, Lucy Mulhall (capt), Eve Higgins, Amee-Leigh Murphy Crowe.
Subs: Audrey O’Flynn, Kathy Baker, Aoife Doyle, Louise Galvin, Katie Heffernan.
Ireland 45 Wales 0, Centre National de Rugby, Marcoussis
Scorers: Ireland: Tries: Louise Galvin 3, Amee-Leigh Murphy Crowe, Katie Fitzhenry, Aoife Doyle, Lucy Mulhall; Cons: Lucy Mulhall 5
Team: Audrey O’Flynn, Ashleigh Baxter, Katie Fitzhenry, Stacey Flood, Lucy Mulhall (capt), Louise Galvin, Amee-Leigh Murphy Crowe.
Subs: Deirbhile Nic a Bhaird, Kathy Baker, Eve Higgins, Aoife Doyle, Katie Heffernan.
Saturday, June 30 –
Cup Quarter-Final: Ireland v Spain, Centre National de Rugby, Marcoussis, 11.44am local time/10.44am Irish time
The full results, fixtures and pools are available on the Rugby Europe tournament page.