Captain Ciara Griffin described herself as ‘the proudest person in Ireland’ after her team defeated the USA in an historic autumn international at the RDS.
Tickets for Ireland’s second and final November Test against Japan next Saturday are on sale. Click here to secure your seats from Ticketmaster.
Playing for the first time since their Rugby World Cup qualification campaign came to a disappointing end, the Ireland Women defeated the Eagles 20-10 thanks to tries from Beibhinn Parsons, Leah Lyons and Lindsay Peat.
This was the first ever women’s rugby international to take place at the Ballsbridge venue and there was a crowd of close to 2,500 on hand to witness it.
It was also the first victory for the girls in green in an autumn Test match, following seven previous defeats during the November window since 2015.
“I think I’m the proudest person in Ireland tonight (Friday) to be honest, with that group in there,” admitted Griffin afterwards.
“They’re solid, they pick you up when you’re down. They always have your back. Couldn’t be prouder of that group.
“When you cross a pitch with your team-mates like that, you want to get the win and you want to get the victory.
“What it meant for us as a group, it was just all of us getting behind each other. Backing each other, showing how solid we are as a squad.
“Obviously there was a bit of relief as well, that we got the result. We trusted our process, we kept edging away. Obviously it wasn’t perfect at times, but we kept battling and kept battling, and we got the win.”
Owing to the Covid-19 pandemic, this was Ireland’s first home game to take place in front of spectators since a Six Nations clash with Wales at Energia Park in early February 2020.
For several minutes after the final whistle had blown, Griffin and her team-mates made sure to soak in every moment of being back on home soil and playing in front of family, friends and the vocal Ireland fans.
It’s the first time in nearly two years that I’ve looked up in the crowd and my family were there. It’s brilliant.
“Of course you’re going to relish every moment and this venue (the RDS) is sensational. I loved every minute of it.”
While the Kerry woman was captaining Ireland on the occasion of her 40th cap, it was loosehead prop Lindsay Peat who led out the team on the night.
From Griffin’s perspective, this was just reward for someone who has come to the sport of rugby at an advanced age, but has proven herself to be a front row stalwart time and time again.
“Lindsay is such a sensational player. She has given so much to this jersey. She deserved her time in the spotlight, in front of the home crowd.
“Getting to lead out your country is a massive honour and I think for all her years of commitment, it was something that was deserved and well needed.”
The popular Dubliner capped off a memorable evening on a personal level by claiming Ireland’s third try of the contest with just over nine minutes gone in the second half.
Peat’s score put the hosts seven points clear (17-10) but although Stacey Flood kicked a late penalty to seal a morale-boosting victory, the USA had Ireland under serious pressure either side of the hour mark.
Whereas in previous games Ireland allowed their opponents in for tries while on the back foot, Griffin was pleased that they were able to dig deep on this occasion and keep the Rob Cain-coached Eagles at bay.
“Everyone came together. We let them into our half at times with our discipline and everything. That’s something for us to look after for next week, but we ground it out. We stuck to our process.
“We bounced up, we held that defensive line and we kept driving them back, which we will take a lot of confidence from going into next week (against Japan).”
There was a familiar look to much of Ireland’s matchday squad, although the likes of Ailsa Hughes, Lyons and Anna Caplice made their first Test starts in quite some time.
However, it was also the dawn of a new international career for talented 21-year-old back rower Maeve Óg O’Leary, who replaced Griffin in the back row during the final quarter.
She made an immediate impact with a try-saving intervention just as the USA appeared odds-on to cross the whitewash. Griffin was thrilled to see the Tipperary youngster getting the chance to impress, adding:
It’s great. Maeve Óg, she took to it like a duck to water, didn’t she? A good impact straight away. It’s great to see those younger players coming through.
“Fitting in and working hard to get the opportunity for selection, which is brilliant, and then backing themselves. That’s what we need people to do.
“We back ourselves, so it’s great to see younger players backing themselves as well. Putting in such a good performance.”