The Ireland Women defeated Rugby World Cup Sevens opponents England to finish third at the Rugby Europe Sevens Grand Prix Series tournament in Marcoussis last night.
It may not have been England’s strongest selection, but it was still a significant result for the Ireland Women who secured a record-breaking 39-7 win in the Bronze final – their biggest ever winning margin against the English in either Sevens or 15s.
The result capped off a momentum-building weekend for Ireland who meet England in the opening Rugby World Cup Sevens fixture at San Francisco’s AT&T Park on Friday, July 20. They won five of their six games over the weekend, only falling to hosts and eventual champions France at the semi-final stage.
The girls in green finished as the joint-top try scorers with Russia, their 35-try haul including eight tries from the ever-prolific Amee-Leigh Murphy Crowe and six from 19-year-old starlet Eve Higgins who shone on day two with braces against Spain and England.
With five tries each, Louise Galvin and Aoife Doyle also popped up as regular scorers with the former playing a key role in winning possession from restarts, while the collective squad effort maintained Ireland’s presence on Rugby Europe’s podium, following bronze medal wins in Malemort and Kazan last summer.
Anthony Eddy’s charges faced a youthful Spain in their Cup quarter-final at France’s Centre National de Rugby. With Stacey Flood rested in a changed starting line-up, captain Lucy Mulhall switched to scrum half and Higgins made an almost immediate impact at out-half.
The Railway Union youngster brilliantly charged through a gap off the side of a scrum to open the scoring after just 49 seconds. Mulhall converted for a seven-point lead. Ashleigh Baxter’s efforts at the breakdown soon won a penalty and Ireland attacked both wings, stretching the Spanish defence for Katie Fitzhenry to cross in the left corner with three minutes gone.
Mulhall and her team-mates, who were silver medallists in the two-legged series last year, continued to dominate possession, with Deirbhile Nic a Bhaird and Fitzhenry both getting over the gain-line before Higgins’ neat dummy and acceleration took her in under the posts for a 19-0 lead.
Just on the half-time hooter, Ireland stretched the margin out to 26 points thanks to a Galvin turnover and Fitzhenry breaking clear of a covering defender to complete her brace. The second half was a scrappier contest and the fresh legs off the bench made their mark, Flood using a Mulhall-won penalty to attack out to the left, throwing a couple of dummies and going over untouched for try number five.
Katie Heffernan maintained Ireland’s stranglehold of the breakdown by earning a penalty, and fellow replacements Kathy Baker and Flood also got on the ball before Mulhall evaded a tackle on an arcing run in behind the posts with 90 seconds remaining. After the Wicklow woman converted her own try, Spain mustered a consolation score from deep through Beatriz Dominguez for a 38-7 final scoreline.
Early half-breaks from Galvin and Fitzhenry offered promise in the semi-final showdown with France, but Ireland could not capitalise on Montserrat Amedee’s sin-binning for a deliberate knock-on. Although they controlled much of the first half possession, their accuracy was slightly off and they lacked the necessary penetration.
From their first real opportunity in the fifth minute, the French used turnover ball to send Chloe Pelle charging away over halfway to score wide on the right. Ireland’s frustration grew as a threatening move sparked by Mulhall’s initial break broke down and the long-legged Anne Cecile Ciofani galloped clear to make it 12-0 for half-time.
Lina Guerin put 17 points between the sides, midway through the second period, as she got away from Galvin and managed to score under pressure from the chasing Murphy Crowe. With France winning the collisions and the 50-50 decisions, Ireland were unable to get into try-scoring range and Grace Okemba wrapped up a 22-0 win, following up after the retreating Baker had denied Carla Neisen just a couple of metres out.
Hitting their straps right from the start of the Bronze final against England, Ireland won the kick-off through Galvin’s tap-down and Flood capitalised on a missed tackle to open the scoring inside 40 seconds. It was 10-0 midway through the first half thanks to a long range try from Murphy Crowe who backed her pace from deep after a neat set-up by Flood and Doyle.
The determined Doyle latched onto the breaking ball from the restart, charging into the English 22 and the momentum allowed Flood to feed Galvin who finished smartly in the left corner. Mulhall was very unfortunate to miss the difficult conversion from out wide, hitting the near post.
Doyle stepped up again, occupying the space in behind the English receiver to gobble up the tap-down and run in try number four, taking English captain Natasha Hunt with her over the line. A knock-on thwarted England in the Irish 22, and from the subsequent scrum, Higgins’ sumptuous offload out of a tackle released Murphy Crowe for a 70-metre run to the line and a 27-0 interval lead.
With possession secured by a Fitzhenry-won penalty, Higgins stepped inside a defender to sprint in under the posts in the ninth minute. Mulhall’s straightforward conversion was followed by more quick-thinking from Higgins who dummied from a ruck and slipped straight through alongside the blindside to notch her double.
Katie Mason’s well-taken try from her own kick through ensured England ended the game with seven points on the board, but Ireland were full value for their seven tries and 39 points as they secured another top-three finish at European level.
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 – 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 38 Spain 7, Centre National de Rugby, Marcoussis
Scorers: Ireland: Tries: Eve Higgins 2, Katie Fitzhenry 2, Stacey Flood, Lucy Mulhall; Cons: Lucy Mulhall 4
Team: Deirbhile Nic a Bhaird, Ashleigh Baxter, Katie Fitzhenry, Lucy Mulhall (capt), Eve Higgins, Louise Galvin, Aoife Doyle.
Subs: Stacey Flood, Kathy Baker, Amee-Leigh Murphy Crowe, Katie Heffernan.
Cup Semi-Final: Ireland 0 France 22, Centre National de Rugby, Marcoussis
Scorers: Ireland: –
Team: Louise Galvin, Ashleigh Baxter, Katie Fitzhenry, Stacey Flood, Lucy Mulhall (capt), Eve Higgins, Amee-Leigh Murphy Crowe.
Subs: Audrey O’Flynn, Deirbhile Nic a Bhaird, Kathy Baker, Aoife Doyle, Katie Heffernan.
Bronze Final: Ireland 39 England 7, Centre National de Rugby, Marcoussis
Scorers: Ireland: Tries: Stacey Flood, Amee-Leigh Murphy Crowe 2, Louise Galvin, Aoife Doyle, Eve Higgins 2; Cons: Lucy Mulhall 2
Team: Louise Galvin, Ashleigh Baxter, Katie Fitzhenry, 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.
The full results, pools and final placings are available on the Rugby Europe tournament page.