The Ireland Women wrapped up day one of the USA 7s tournament with a record HSBC World Rugby Women’s Sevens Series win, sweeping Fiji aside on a 59-7 scoreline to set up a Cup quarter-final crack at New Zealand later today in Glendale, Colorado (kick-off 10.30am local time/5.30pm Irish time).
Ashleigh Baxter, Ireland’s most-capped Sevens international, bagged a brace of tries in the nine-try dismissal of the Fijians, which saw Ireland progress as the best third-place finishers in the pool stages. They had kicked off the new World Series campaign with defeats to France (21-12) and eventual Pool C winners Canada (24-12), but bounced back in emphatic fashion in the final round.
Captain Lucy Mulhall ended the day top of the DHL Performance Tracker list with 24 points for 13 carries, eight tackles and three breaks. She also scored two tries and landed seven conversions, including a couple of superbly-struck efforts from out wide against Fiji. Her two-try tally was matched by Aoife Doyle, Hannah Tyrrell and Stacey Flood.
Playing in the testing high-altitude conditions, Ireland fell behind to a France try after just 40 seconds of their pool opener. Lina Guerin picked from a ruck and stepped around Amee-Leigh Murphy Crowe to go in under the posts for a seven-pointer. France maintained territorial pressure throughout the first half, with Murphy Crowe doing well to force a knock-on and then win a penalty at the breakdown.
Montserrat Amedee added a second try approaching half-time, profiting from Guerin’s rip in a tackle on Eve Higgins and good hands from right to left, but Mulhall sparked a terrific response from Ireland past the hooter. Baxter carried strongly towards halfway and after Mulhall broke from a ruck, her well-timed pass out of a tackle released Doyle for a 40-metre run-in, making it 14-7 at the turnaround.
There was further encouragement on the restart with Deirbhile Nic a Bhaird carrying aggressively and gobbling up the yards, yet the French stung them from another turnover. Pauline Biscarat’s tackle dispossessed Doyle, who had stepped in to play scrum half at a ruck, and Guerin darted clear from her own 10-metre line to complete her brace.
Doyle bounced back with a brilliant tackle on the dangerous Anne Cecile Ciofani and Ireland made sure they ended the game with a second score, showing impressive reserves of energy with Nic a Bhaird again prominent in defence and attack. A penalty past the hooter set up a lineout and Mulhall’s midfield feed allowed replacement Tyrrell to break away from the covering Ciofani and score from just outside the French 22.
Ireland were guilty of leaking another first-minute try when they returned to the pitch to face Canada. Bianca Farella took advantage of missed tackles from Flood and Katie Fitzhenry to raid in from the right. The Canadians’ fast start continued with Julia Greenshields slipping away from Flood’s diving challenge to make it 14-0. A harsh ruck penalty against Claire Boles preceded the second touchdown.
Ireland’s first spell of possession resulted in a sixth-minute try, Mulhall’s pacy running off set piece ball causing the Canadian defence some problems and Flood spotted her opportunity to wriggle free and dive over from close range. Ireland maintained the momentum to reduce the arrears to 14-12 by half-time, replacement Katie Heffernan’s rapid tackle gaining a turnover and although Murphy Crowe’s offload went to ground, Mulhall’s excellent pick up and injection of pace saw her cross in the right corner.
However, Anthony Eddy’s side fell foul of referee Sakurako Kawasaki’s whistle on the resumption as a couple of offside decisions invited Canada forward and they worked Kaili Lukan over out wide to extend the lead back to seven points. A marginal call went Canada’s way with Ghislaine Landry’s restart adjudged to have gone the required 10 metres and replacement Breanne Nicholas was quick off the mark to notch try number four.
Brittany Benn’s yellow card for a deliberate knock-on, with two minutes remaining, gave Ireland a shot at reducing the double-scores deficit, yet Kawasaki pinged them with a series of late penalties as Canada saw out the game in the Irish 22. Nic a Bhaird was penalised for taking an extra roll after a tackle, and Audrey O’Flynn was twice whistled up for pulling down Charity Williams at successive lineouts, the second one being particularly debatable.
With Fiji also losing to the top two (26-7 against Canada and 45-12 against France), Ireland’s hopes of reaching the last-eight rested on beating the South Sea Islanders, who fielded a new-look squad in Glendale and were without injured captain Sereima Leweniqila for the pool finale.
Only 44 seconds had elapsed when Doyle scored from 50 metres out, burning off the chasers after an initial step off her right. Fitzhenry’s dive onto a loose Fiji pass had secured hard-won early possession. Baxter used a powerful fend to run in try number two, with Higgins doing well to gobble up the restart beforehand.
Higgins’ aerial threat from another Mulhall kick led to a bouncing ball and Baxter claimed it to run in a quick-fire brace. The one-way traffic continued as Baxter intercepted a loose Fijian pass, and some crisp interplay between Doyle and Mulhall freed up Murphy Crowe to score out wide.
Fitzhenry’s defensive efforts near the left touchline kept Fiji scoreless before the 19-year-old Higgins threw a clever dummy to reach over in the final play of the opening half. Mulhall fired over a terrific fifth conversion from the left, giving her side a 35-0 lead, and the Wicklow woman were first over the whitewash when play resumed, attacking the blindside off a ruck and cutting in past the final defender.
A fine individual score from Litiana Lawedrau, breaking free on the right wing, got Fiji off the mark, but Ireland closed out a rampant performance with further tries from replacements Tyrrell, who darted in between two defenders, Heffernan, who stepped inside Mereula Torooti following good work by Flood and Nic a Bhaird, and Flood herself, kicking through off both feet before diving on the ball in the right corner.
The Ireland Sevens jerseys are available to buy online here from Elverys Intersport, official sports retailer of the IRFU.
IRELAND WOMEN’S SEVENS Squad (2018/19 HSBC World Rugby Women’s Sevens Series – USA 7s, Infinity Park, Glendale, Colorado, Denver, USA, Saturday, October 20-Sunday, October 21):
Ashleigh Baxter (Cooke/Ulster)
Claire Boles (Railway Union/Ulster)
Aoife Doyle (Shannon/Railway Union/Munster)
Katie Fitzhenry (Blackrock/Leinster)
Stacey Flood (Railway Union/Leinster)
Katie Heffernan (Mullingar/Railway Union/Leinster)
Eve Higgins (Railway Union/Leinster)
Emily Lane (Mallow/Munster)
Lucy Mulhall (Rathdrum) (capt)
Amee-Leigh Murphy Crowe (Railway Union/Munster)
Deirbhile Nic a Bhaird (Old Belvedere/Munster)
Audrey O’Flynn (Ireland Sevens Programme)
Hannah Tyrrell (Old Belvedere/Leinster)
IRELAND WOMEN’S SEVENS RESULTS – USA 7s:
Saturday, October 20 –
France 21 Ireland 12, Infinity Park
Scorers: Ireland: Tries: Aoife Doyle, Hannah Tyrrell; Con: Lucy Mulhall
Team: Ashleigh Baxter, Katie Fitzhenry, Audrey O’Flynn, Stacey Flood, Lucy Mulhall (capt), Eve Higgins, Amee-Leigh Murphy Crowe.
Subs used: Aoife Doyle, Deirbhile Nic a Bhaird, Hannah Tyrrell, Katie Heffernan. Not used: Claire Boles.
Canada 24 Ireland 12, Infinity Park
Scorers: Ireland: Tries: Stacey Flood, Lucy Mulhall; Con: Lucy Mulhall
Team: Ashleigh Baxter, Katie Fitzhenry, Claire Boles, Stacey Flood, Lucy Mulhall (capt), Aoife Doyle, Amee-Leigh Murphy Crowe.
Subs used: Katie Heffernan, Deirbhile Nic a Bhaird, Eve Higgins, Audrey O’Flynn, Hannah Tyrrell.
Fiji 7 Ireland 59, Infinity Park
Scorers: Ireland: Tries: Aoife Doyle, Ashleigh Baxter 2, Amee-Leigh Murphy Crowe, Eve Higgins, Lucy Mulhall, Hannah Tyrrell, Katie Heffernan, Stacey Flood; Cons: Lucy Mulhall 7
Team: Ashleigh Baxter, Katie Fitzhenry, Deirbhile Nic a Bhaird, Lucy Mulhall (capt), Eve Higgins, Aoife Doyle, Amee-Leigh Murphy Crowe.
Subs used: Stacey Flood, Claire Boles, Audrey O’Flynn, Katie Heffernan, Hannah Tyrrell.
Sunday, October 21 –
Cup Quarter-Final: New Zealand v Ireland, Infinity Park, 10.30am local time/5.30pm Irish time
2018/19 HSBC WORLD RUGBY WOMEN’S SEVENS SERIES:
USA (Denver), Infinity Park, Glendale, October 20-21
DUBAI, Sevens Stadium, Dubai, November 29-30
AUSTRALIA (Sydney), Spotless Stadium, Sydney, February 1-3
JAPAN (Kitakyushu), Mikuni World Stadium, Kitakyushu, April 20-21
CANADA (Langford), Westhills Stadium, Vancouver Island, May 11-12
FRANCE (Paris), Stade Jean-Bouin, Paris, May 31-June 3
For more information on the HSBC World Rugby Women’s Sevens Series, click here.