The Ireland Women’s squad stepped up their preparations for the fast-approaching Six Nations Championship with a 29-19 triumph over Wales in an entertaining warm-up clash at Energia Park this afternoon.
WOMEN’S SIX NATIONS WARM-UP MATCH: Sunday, January 20
IRELAND WOMEN 29 WALES WOMEN 19, Energia Park, Donnybrook
Scorers: Ireland Women: Tries: Ciara Griffin, Anna Caplice, Lauren Delany, Laura Sheehan, Linda Djougang; Cons: Nicole Fowley 2
Wales Women: Tries: Kelsey Jones, Jasmine Joyce 2 Cons: Robyn Wilkins 2
HT: Ireland Women 15 Wales Women 7
Captain Ciara Griffin, Anna Caplice and Lauren Delany scored tries for Adam Griggs’ side in the opening 40 minutes, before Laura Sheehan and Linda Djougang added their names to the scoresheet to stave off a spirited Wales fightback.
While seven uncapped players were included the 27-strong Ireland squad, teenager Enya Breen was the only newcomer to feature in the starting XV for this uncapped warm-up match. In the absence of the experienced Sene Naoupu, Breen partnered Michelle Claffey in midfield.
The Ireland Women enjoyed a commanding 35-12 Six Nations victory over Wales at the same venue last spring and they dominated possession early on in today’s contest. Megan Williams, having been released by out-half Ellen Murphy, was held up short before Griffin peeled off the resulting scrum for a powerful try finish.
Claffey’s difficult conversion attempt fell short of the target, but Ireland continued to pile the pressure on the Welsh outfit. Full-back Delany, who won her first cap against the USA in November, made a lung-bursting line-break to re-establish territory for the hosts.
This eventually culminated in their second try of the day on 15 minutes, as flanker Caplice, who has been impressing with her club Richmond in England, touched down in the right corner to round off a patient and well-constructed move.
Despite falling 10 points behind, Wales responded in confident fashion. Cardiff Blues out-half Robyn Wilkins kicked a penalty to touch, bringing the visitors into the opposition 22 for the first time. The resulting lineout maul sent hooker Kelsey Jones over for a try converted by Wilkins.
However, this only served as a temporary reprieve against an eager Ireland side. Murphy, Claffey and Breen were heavily involved in the build-up to Delany’s 22nd-minute try. The pacy IQ Rugby recruit jinked past a covering defender to claim another eye-catching score, adding to her effort against England in November.
Without necessarily cutting loose, Ireland expertly controlled the tempo of the play as half-time approached. Scrum half Ailsa Hughes found space on the left wing only to be halted just shy of the try-line and Griffin was also held up in the latter stages of the half.
Alison Miller was making a welcome return on the left wing, 11 months on from a horrific season-ending broke leg against Italy. She looked set to release Delany for her second try of the game, but the Portlaoise flyer’s offload was ruled forward.
Nevertheless, Ireland had more than enough reason to be content with a 15-7 interval cushion. The final outcome was far from set in stone, though, and Wales enjoyed a blistering start to the second period as both squads got important game-time ahead of the start of the Six Nations on Friday week.
With a minute of the restart, speedy winger Jasmine Joyce got on the end of a sweeping counter attack to grab Wales’ second try. In spite of Wilkins’ wayward conversion kick, Wales quickly turned the tables on Ireland to create a buffer of their own.
After Williams’ attempted clearance out of defence was charged down, the alert Joyce claimed her second touchdown in the space of six minutes. Wilkins split the uprights to suddenly hand Wales a 19-15 lead and Ireland were under pressure.
Regrouping and using their bench to good effect, Ireland soon regained their composure with a patient spell of possession in midfield. Six players were brought on from the bench in the 56th-minute, with the ever-dependable Claire Molloy joining a raft of fresh faces in a game that remained firmly in the balance.
Having found themselves under the cosh in the initial stages of the half, Ireland began to dictate the play once more. A well-executed rolling maul on the right almost produced a score just past the hour mark, before a fourth try eventually arrived on 64 minutes.
Nicole Fowley’s superbly-weighted cross-field kick made its way out towards the left wing where fellow replacement Sheehan, another recent debutant in green, was left with a simple finish. Fowley then stepped up to the kicking tee and made light of an awkward angle to kick Ireland into a 22-19 advantage.
This was a major momentum swing for the girls in green and they effectively put the outcome beyond doubt with nine minutes remaining. The physicality of their pack proved too much for Wales, with try scorer Djougang and Fowley, who again added the extras, ensuring Ireland got the maximum return off another power-packed lineout drive.
This was a satisfying day’s work for the Irish squad, who came close to scoring a sixth try in the closing minutes. Their focus now turns to hosting England in the opening round of the Championship on Friday, February 1 (kick-off 5pm). The two-for-one ticket offer has been extended – buy yours now on ticketmaster.ie.
IRELAND WOMEN: Lauren Delany (Firwood Waterloo Ladies/IQ Rugby); Megan Williams (Old Belvedere/Leinster), Enya Breen (UL Bohemians/Munster), Michelle Claffey (Blackrock/Leinster), Alison Miller (Old Belvedere/Connacht); Ellen Murphy (Old Belvedere/Leinster), Ailsa Hughes (Railway Union/Leinster); Laura Feely (Galwegians/Connacht), Leah Lyons (Harlequins), Fiona Reidy (UL Bohemians/Munster), Aoife McDermott (Railway Union/Leinster), Nichola Fryday (Galwegians/Connacht), Anna Caplice (Richmond), Juliet Short (Railway Union/Leinster), Ciara Griffin (UL Bohemians/Munster) (capt).
Replacements used: Linda Djougang (Old Belvedere/Leinster), Emma Hooban (St. Mary’s/Leinster), Anne Marie O’Hora (Galwegians/Connacht), Hannah O’Connor (Blackrock/Leinster), Claire Boles (Railway Union/Ulster), Claire Molloy (Wasps), Claire McLaughlin (Old Belvedere/Ulster), Kathryn Dane (Old Belvedere/Ulster), Nicole Fowley (Galwegians/Connacht), Laura Sheehan (UL Bohemians/Munster), Ailbhe Dowling (Old Belvedere/Leinster), Eimear Considine (UL Bohemians/Munster).
WALES WOMEN: Lisa Neumann (RGC/Firwood Waterloo Ladies); Jasmine Joyce (Scarlets/Worcester), Hannah Jones (Scarlets/Gloucester), Lleucu George (Scarlets/Whitland), Caitlin Lewis (Scarlets); Robyn Wilkins (Cardiff Blues), Ffion Lewis (Scarlets/Worcester Valkyries); Cara Hope (Ospreys/Swansea), Kelsey Jones (Ospreys/Gloucester Hartpury), Cerys Hale (Dragons/Worcester), Natalia John (Ospreys/Swansea), Mel Clay (Ospreys/Pontyclun), Alex Callender (Scarlets/Worcester Vakyries), Manon Johnes (Cardiff Blues/Cardiff Quins), Siwan Lillicrap (Ospreys/Swansea).
Replacements used: Carys Phillips (Ospreys/Swansea), Amy Evans (Ospreys/Swansea), Caryl Thomas (Dragons/Bristol Bears), Bethan Lewis (Dragons/Gloucester Hartpury), Sioned Harries (Scarlets/Worcester), Jess Kavanagh (RGC/Caernarfon), Alisha Butchers (Scarlets/Worcester), Keira Bevan (Ospreys/Swansea), Elinor Snowsill (Dragons/Bristol Bears), Lauren Smyth (Ospreys).
Referee: Andrew Cole (IRFU)