In Steven Hennessy’s first competitive match as head coach, the Ireland Women’s side kickstarted their RBS 6 Nations run in fine style as Fiona Coghlan’s try and a coolly-struck conversion from Niamh Briggs steered them to a 7-5 triumph over France at Ashbourne RFC.
2009 RBS WOMEN’S 6 NATIONS CHAMPIONSHIP: Friday, February 6
IRELAND WOMEN 7 FRANCE WOMEN 5, Ashbourne RFC
Scorers: Ireland: Try: Fiona Coghlan; Con: Niamh Briggs
France: Try: Cathy Langenfeld
Maintaining a high level of skill throughout and showing tremendous heart, Ireland came from behind to beat France 7-5 in a low-scoring opening game of the RBS Women’s 6 Nations Championship.
If the 300 people who braved the bitter cold in Ashbourne had planned to keep their fingers warm by counting scores on them, frostbite may haven taken hold before the chance to use their digits presented itself.
Remarkably at half-time it was 0-0, but both scores, when they eventually came, were worth the wait.
It may have been scarcely deserved on the balance of play, but the try that gave the visitors the lead was pure France.
Great work from their forwards inside the Ireland 22 set up the platform and from there virtually all the backs were involved in a move which saw the ball worked all the way from left to right before left winger Cathy Langenfeld popped up on the right-hand side to go over in the corner.
Crucially, full-back Caroline Ladagnous missed the conversion.
Ireland did not let their heads drop though and continued to play open, 15-woman rugby. On more than one occasion,half-backs Tania Rosser and Niamh Briggs linked up well with Lynne Cantwell and team captain Joy Neville.
Second half replacements Shannon Houston and Grace Davitt also impressed, with full-back Joanne O’Sullivan not shy about coming into the line.
But it was the forwards who did all the work for the equalising score. Possession was secured from a lineout deep inside the France 22. From there the pack mauled their way through phase after phase, inching their way closer to the line.
When prop Fiona Coghlan crossed the whitewash, referee David Jones took a long, hard look before awarding the try. Briggs added the conversion and Ireland suddenly led by two with just eight minutes remaining.
The home side had dominated the first half in terms of territory and possession, but had absolutely nothing to show for it when it came to score-line.
All Briggs’ clever use of the garryowen to keep the French pegged back, all Cantwell’s darting runs through the centre, all the questions being asked by the pack counted for precious little when the Ireland team looked at the blank half-time scoreboard.
France barely threatened the Irish 22 in the first 40 minutes, never mind the try-line and in reality Ireland should have been well ahead.
Countless opportunities went a-begging and two penalties from similar positions – central and on the 22-metre line – should have been converted. As it turned out, those missed opportunities did not come back to haunt Ireland.
There were plenty of anxious moments for the girls in green and the story would have been much different had Ladagnous converted a long range penalty in the dying moments.
Ireland held on, though, to record a deserved victory in Steven Hennessy’s first competitive game in charge.
The result also made up for the 22-22 draw the Irish achieved against France at last May’s European Championship, which was a game the players readily admit they should have won.
Next up for Hennessy’s charges is a trip to Collefero on Valentine’s Day to face Italy.
IRELAND WOMEN: Joanne O’Sullivan (Richmond/Ulster); Jeannette Feighery (UL Bohemians/Munster), Lynne Cantwell (UL Bohemians/Munster), Helen Brosnan (Highfield/Munster), Amy Davis (Blackrock/Ulster); Niamh Briggs (Clonmel/Munster), Tania Rosser (Blackrock/Leinster); Fiona Coghlan (UL Bohemians/Leinster), Yvonne Nolan (Blackrock/Leinster), Gillian Bourke (UL Bohemians/Munster), Caroline Mahon (UL Bohemians/Leinster), Orla Brennan (Blackrock/Leinster), Louise Austin (Blackrock/Leinster), Sinead Ryan (Blackrock/Leinster), Joy Neville (UL Bohemians/Munster) (capt).
Replacements used: Clare Molloy (Cardiff Harlequins/Connacht) for Ryan (45 mins), Grace Davitt (Blackrock/Leinster) for Feighery (53), Shannon Houston (Blackrock/Leinster) for Brosnan (62), Jess Limbert (Cooke/Ulster) for Nolan (72). Not used: Emer McManamly (Blackrock/Leinster), Kate O’Loughlin (Clonmel/Munster), Louise Beamish (UL Bohemians/Munster).
FRANCE WOMEN: Caroline Ladagnous (Lons); Laetitia Esteve (Montpellier), Elodie Poublan (Montpellier), Christelle Le Duff (Toulouges), Cathy Langenfeld (Toulouges); Aurelie Bailon (Toulouges), Stephanie Provost (Caen); Clotilde Flaugere (Dijon), Cyndia Mansard (St. Orens), Stephanie Loyer (Bobigny), Sandra Rabier (Caen) (capt), Cyrielle Bouisset (Toulouges), Amandine Vaupre (Caen), Marie Charlotte Hebel (Toulouges), Claire Canal (Richmond).
Replacements: Laetitia Salles (Toulouges), Celine Barthelemy (Stade Bordelais), Nadege Labbey (Caen), Melanie Gauffinet (Bayonne), Jennifer Troncy (Montpellier), Aurore Sobolak (Caen), Marie Alice Yahe (Toulouges).
Referee: David Jones (Wales)