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First UCD Win Eludes Ireland Women Despite Strong Performance
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First UCD Win Eludes Ireland Women Despite Strong Performance

First UCD Win Eludes Ireland Women Despite Strong Performance

The Ireland Women fell on the wrong side of an extremely tight result as World champions England won today’s November Series clash at the UCD Bowl.



Katy McLean's crucial conversion of flanker Izzy Noel-Smith's 72nd-minute try from a maul gave the visitors a 12-10 victory, but Tom Tierney's home side played the better rugby throughout and can take a lot of positives forward into next Saturday's game against Canada.

Injured captain Niamh Briggs and Sophie Spence headed up Ireland’s list of absentees, and injuries in each half to Cliodhna Moloney and Claire Molloy robbed the hosts of two more key players.

The girls in green had plenty of possession in the first half but struggled to open up a dogged English defence, and the visitors used their lineout platform to build for Rochelle Clark’s 33rd-minute try.

Nora Stapleton, kicking in the absence of Briggs, clipped over a late penalty from in front of the posts to leave Ireland just 5-3 behind at the break.

Tierney’s charges continued to have most of the ball on the rain-hit resumption, and finally exerting some prolonged pressure in England’s 22. It paid dividends in the 50th minute when excellent out-half Stapleton scooped up a loose ball and brilliantly stepped through the traffic to crash over to the left of the posts.

The Donegal woman converted her own try, before England’s experienced bench became a factor. Costly penalties had Ireland pinned back in their 22 and the English maul, so important in their 10-5 midweek win over France, proved decisive when Noel-Smith was driven over.

Mclean expertly nailed the conversion kick from the left to edge England back in front, and try as they might, Ireland’s late attempts to unlock the white defensive wall lacked the required precision and penetration.

Long-serving prop Clark led both teams down the Belfield steps and onto the pitch on the occasion of her 115th cap, surpassing the English international record of Jason Leonard.

Ireland got their hands on the ball early on, new centre Nicole Fowley and her Galwegians club-mate Mairead Coyne both prominent with the dynamic Molloy almost slipping through a midfield gap.

A rare missed touchfinder from Stapleton robbed Ireland of a decent lineout position in the English 22, however good set piece work from Ailis Egan in the scrum, and Marie Louise Reilly and Molloy in the lineout, saw the hosts retain the lion’s share of possession.

England gave away very little territory, though, and admirable adventure out wide by Coyne and Sene Naoupu, over halfway, was quickly shut down. Preferring to keep play in the tight, England’s first maul attempt was thwarted by the swarming Irish defence.

Crunching tackles by Naoupu and Lindsay Peat epitomised Ireland’s determination, a fine run off scrum ball by the returning Niamh Kavanagh putting them in the visitors’ 22 before England succeeded in slowing up ruck ball and winning a clearing penalty.

Right on the half hour mark, England upped the tempo with an incisive run from Vicky Fleetwood in the 22. They failed to take advantage of an overlap on the left and busy flanker Marlie Packer then had a try ruled out for a forward pass.

But Clark succeeded in touching down soon after, England pressing from the maul before lively hooker Fleetwood broke a tackle and with Moloney down injured, the momentum led to Fleetwood’s front row colleague piling over the line. Emily Scott missed the conversion from the right wing.

Although Moloney’s replacement at hooker, new cap Leah Lyons, had her first lineout throw stolen by Harriet Millar-Mills, Stapleton soon found a great touch on the right. A few minutes later, she opened Ireland’s account with a central penalty, rewarding her Old Belvedere club-mate Egan for some excellent work at the breakdown.

As the drizzle came down for the start of the second half, another penalty-winning turnover – this time from Ciara Griffin – launched Ireland forward before a knock-on in contact from Fowley foiled a promising attack.

With Molloy’s game prematurely ended by a shoulder injury, UL Bohemians’ Chloe Pearse came on for her debut – Ireland’s third of the day – and the back row continued to influence proceedings, blindside Griffin getting a half-block on a kick which led to an Irish scrum in the visitors’ 22.

Alison Miller got her legs pumping on a strong carry to get Ireland into try-scoring range. The home scrum won an excellent penalty and although England held firm at a second set piece and a subsequent ruck ball went loose, Stapleton did really well to pick up possession and evade a couple of defenders for an opportunist close range try which she converted herself.

With the Irish scrum continuing to impress, Stapleton’s right boot grew increasingly influential with an inch-perfect kick to touch on the left. However, Ireland were unable to add to their five-point lead.

Entering the final quarter, England – through replacements McLean and Natasha Hunt – swiftly turned defence into attack and were unfortunate to be called back for a forward pass with the try-line at their mercy.

With more experience in their back-line, England were now carrying more of a threat with ball in hand, but replacement prop Fiona Hayes got in to ground a lineout maul and an Egan-inspired choke tackle produced turnover ball for Ireland.

Unfortunately Ireland captain Paula Fitzpatrick was isolated following a quickly-taken free-kick, allowing England to press from a lineout deep in the Irish 22. They duly got their reward, the drive coming through for Noel-Smith to finish off. Mclean’s accurate conversion set up an exciting finish.

The final five minutes were played in England’s half, Ireland with most of the possession. The vocal home crowd, numbering 1,397, willed them to create a match-winning score, but England covered Stapleton’s dangerous kick through that had Kavanagh chasing up hard, and a crooked lineout ended Ireland’s hopes of a late response.

TIME LINE: 33 minutes – England try: Rochelle Clark – 5-0; conversion: missed by Emily Scott – 5-0; 40 mins – Ireland penalty: Nora Stapleton – 5-3; Half-time – Ireland 3 England 5; 50 mins – Ireland try: Nora Stapleton – 8-5; conversion: Nora Stapleton – 10-5; 72 mins – England try: Izzy Noel-Smith – 10-10; conversion: Katy McLean – 10-12; Full-time – Ireland 10 England 12

Referee: Amy Perrett (Australia)

Lineups Scorers

Match Lineups

Home Team

Mairead Coyne (Galwegians/Connacht); Niamh Kavanagh (UL Bohemians/Munster), Nicole Fowley (Galwegians/Connacht), Sene Naoupu (Aylesford Bulls), Alison Miller (Old Belvedere/Connacht); Nora Stapleton (Old Belvedere/Leinster), Larissa Muldoon (Railway Union); Lindsay Peat (Railway Union/Leinster), Cliodhna Moloney (Railway Union/Leinster), Ailis Egan (Old Belvedere/Leinster), Marie Louise Reilly (Old Belvedere/Leinster), Orla Fitzsimons (St. Mary's/Leinster), Ciara Griffin (UL Bohemians/Munster), Claire Molloy (Bristol/Connacht), Paula Fitzpatrick (St. Mary's/Leinster) (capt).

Replacements used: Leah Lyons (Highfield/Munster) for Moloney (35 mins), Chloe Pearse (UL Bohemians/Munster) for Molloy (45), Mary Healy (Galwegians/Connacht) for Muldoon (51), Fiona Hayes (UL Bohemians/Munster) for Peat (63), Katie Norris (Blackrock/Leinster) for Fitzsimons (74). Not used: Fiona Reidy (UL Bohemians/Munster), Nikki Caughey (Railway Union/Ulster), Jackie Shiels (Old Belvedere/Leinster).

Away Team

Danielle Waterman (Bristol); Kay Wilson (Richmond), Claire Allan (Saracens), Rachael Burford (Aylesford Bulls), Fiona Pocock (Aylesford Bulls); Emily Scott (Saracens), La Toya Mason (Darlington Mowden Park Sharks); Rochelle Clark (Worcester Valkyries), Vicky Fleetwood (Saracens), Laura Keates (Worcester Valkyries), Tamara Taylor (Darlington Mowden Park Sharks), Harriet Millar-Mills (Lichfield), Izzy Noel-Smith (Bristol), Marlie Packer (Bristol), Sarah Hunter (Bristol) (capt).

Replacements used: Natasha Hunt (Lichfield) for Mason, Katy Mclean (Darlington Mowden Park Sharks) for Allan, Amy Cokayne (Lichfield) for Packer (all 51 mins), Vickii Cornborough (Aylesford Bulls) for Clark, Justine Lucas (Lichfield) for Keates (both 56), Poppy Cleall (Bristol) for Millar-Mills, for Ceri Large (Worcester Valkyries) for Burford (both 69). Not used: Sarah Bern (Bristol).

Match Scorers

Home Team

Try: Nora Stapleton; Con: Nora Stapleton; Pen: Nora Stapleton

Away Team

Tries: Rochelle Clark, Izzy Noel-Smith; Con: Katy Mclean