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Ireland’s Second Half Comeback Proves Just Enough Against Japan
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Ireland’s Second Half Comeback Proves Just Enough Against Japan

Ireland’s Second Half Comeback Proves Just Enough Against Japan

The Ireland Women put a nightmare first half behind them to eventually overhaul Japan in another WRWC 2017 cliffhanger at the UCD Bowl, with a Nora Stapleton penalty and Paula Fitzpatrick’s last-minute try sealing a 24-14 comeback victory.




Ireland were teetering on the brink of a World Cup collapse when trailing 14-0 at the break, as the Asian champions silenced the home fans with a penalty try from their dominant scrum while full-back Mayu Shimizu followed up with a neatly-taken 38th-minute score which she converted herself.

Katie Fitzhenry's yellow card for a high tackle was a further setback before Ireland's bench – so influential against Australia during last Wednesday's tight defeat of Australia – grabbed the game by the scruff of the neck with Ailis Egan, Leah Lyons and two-try star Paula Fitzpatrick, in particular, exerted plenty of influence.

Seven-pointers from Alison Miller and Fitzpatrick drew the girls in green level by the 65th minute, and while Aon player-of-the-match Nora Stapleton's penalty with seven minutes left nudged them in front, Fitzpatrick rumbled over right at the death to make certain of the result and set up a Pool C decider with France next Thursday.

Much-improved game management got Ireland over the line, but the performance in the first half was severely lacking. Basic handling errors, glaring set piece issues and defensive lapses left Tom Tierney's side badly exposed, and Japan, who were 100/1 outsiders before kick-off, took advantage thanks to their own impressive organisation, structures, and accurate and clinical play.

Ireland mixed the good with the bad early on, building through 10 phases off new cap Nicole Cronin's swift passes and Lindsay Peat leading the charge with a couple of powerful carries. Centre Fitzhenry also chased hard in pursuit of a clever Stapleton kick, however a miscued lineout and a subsequent knock-on by Peat released the pressure on Japan.

The Japanese succeeded in forcing a second lineout error from Ireland and won a scrum penalty shortly afterwards, their lighter pack gaining confidence as they thwarted the hosts' early advances. Winger Miller was fed by Cronin in space on the left, but she was quickly closed down when she reached the 22.

Ireland, who made seven personnel changes from the Australia game, failed to build momentum from a Claire Molloy-won penalty at the breakdown, and also coughed up possession at a maul, before Mairead Coyne needed to make a vital cover tackle on the fast-breaking Eriko Hirano. The challenge was ruled high but the Japanese, opting for a scrum, were held at bay.

Ireland had a serious let-off when a forward pass saw Japan botch a try-scoring opportunity on the left wing, yet the scrum continued to be an area of real concern for the home side. Makoto Ebuchi got under Ciara O'Connor to drive her back – not once but twice – and the second close-in scrum, which saw Japan pile forward, produced a deserved penalty try and a seven-point lead for Goshi Arimizu's charges.

Individual mistakes continued to blight Ireland's play, with Stapleton knocking on and Sophie Spence guilty of a high tackle. Japan were invited forward again and after Coyne and Hannah Tyrrell made important tackles deep in their 22, influential out-half Minori Yamamoto, who was served very well by her 17-year-old half-back partner Moe Tsukui, almost teed up a try with a neat chip over the top.

Disappointingly for Ireland, that score arrived just a minute later when Shimizu produced a terrific finish to the right of the posts, bouncing off Miller's attempted tackle and stepping inside Fitzhenry to score – and she added the extras for good measure.

With Egan already on as a replacement for O'Connor at tighthead, head coach Tierney made three further changes at the break as Lyons and Ruth O'Reilly came into the front row and Louise Galvin – making her 15s international debut – replaced the error-prone Coyne in the back-three.

The second period began on a frustrating note for Ireland as Fitzhenry was carded barely two minutes in, the Wexford native paying the price for the collective infringements in the opening half. The sin-bin period actually worked out in the hosts' favour who conjured up a try for Miller.

Successive charge-downs from Miller and Fitzpatrick saw Ireland get right up into scoring range, and after the forwards had knocked on the door through the likes of Egan and Fitzpatrick, Miller managed to make her way over for a galvanising try. The left-sided conversion was lobbed over by Stapleton to half Japan's lead to 14-7.

Ireland's ability to get in at the breakdown and force penalties proved hugely important in turning the tide. Although there was excellent work in that area by Ciara Griffin, Molloy and Egan, Japan hurtled back with a storming set of attacking phases. Indeed, it took a brilliantly-timed tackle from Sene Naoupu, coupled with another Egan-won penalty on the deck, to break up their momentum approaching the hour mark.

Suddenly, Ireland were finding more holes in the Japanese defence. Terrific timing and positioning from captain Molloy forced a penalty at ruck time, and from the subsequent lineout in the 22, Lyons' pinpoint throw set up a monster maul which saw Fitzpatrick plunge over for her first converted try of the night.

As Japan appeared to tire from their increasing workload in defence, Ireland edged ahead in the 73rd minute thanks to a surefooted strike from the reliable Stapleton. The close range penalty – conceded by Yuki Sue – came on the back of a barnstorming 19 phases led by the forwards, with a big carry from lock Spence to start it off.

There was still time for Ireland to notch their sixth try of the tournament – and it came at the end of a mammoth 34 phases. The pack again dug deep for the hard yards with Molloy and Ciara Cooney both getting through a huge amount of work in and around the fringes.

Fitzpatrick spotted her chance to go for the line and she used her strength to scramble over just to the right of the posts. Stapleton's conversion went over with the aid of the left hand upright, four more pool points in the bag but a huge amount for Ireland to work on ahead of the decisive clash with France, who put 48 points on Australia tonight.

WRWC 2017 – Day 2 Results

WRWC 2017 – Latest Pool Tables

For more on the 2017 Women's Rugby World Cup, visit the tournament website – www.rwcwomens.com. Buy your match tickets for the #WRWC2017 finals stages now on www.ticketmaster.co.uk/wrwc2017 and www.ticketmaster.ie/wrwc2017.

TIME LINE: 28 minutes – Japan try: Penalty try – 0-5; conversion – 0-7; 38 mins – Japan try: Mayu Shimizu – 0-12; conversion: Mayu Shimizu – 0-14; Half-time – Ireland 0 Japan 14; 43 mins – Ireland yellow card: Katie Fitzhenry; 46 mins – Ireland try: Alison Miller – 5-14; conversion: Nora Stapleton – 7-14; 64 mins – Ireland try: Paula Fitzpatrick – 12-14; conversion: Nora Stapleton – 14-14; 73 mins – Ireland penalty: Nora Stapleton – 17-14; 80 mins – Ireland try: Paula Fitzpatrick – 22-14; conversion: Nora Stapleton – 24-14; Full-time – Ireland 24 Japan 14

Referee: Ian Tempest (England)

Lineups Scorers

Match Lineups

Home Team

Mairead Coyne (Galwegians/Connacht); Hannah Tyrrell (Old Belvedere/Leinster), Katie Fitzhenry (Blackrock/Leinster), Sene Naoupu (Harlequins), Alison Miller (Old Belvedere/Connacht); Nora Stapleton (Old Belvedere/Leinster), Nicole Cronin (UL Bohemians/Munster); Lindsay Peat (Railway Union/Leinster), Cliodhna Moloney (Railway Union/Leinster), Ciara O'Connor (Galwegians/Connacht), Ciara Cooney (Railway Union/Leinster), Sophie Spence (Old Belvedere/Leinster), Ciara Griffin (UL Bohemians/Munster), Ashleigh Baxter (Cooke/Ulster), Claire Molloy (Bristol/Connacht) (capt).

Replacements used: Ailis Egan (Old Belvedere/Leinster) for O'Connor (28 mins), Ruth O'Reilly (Galwegians/Connacht) for Peat, Leah Lyons (Highfield/Munster) for Moloney, Louise Galvin (UL Bohemians/Munster) for Coyne, Paula Fitzpatrick (St. Mary's/Leinster) for Baxter (all half-time), Jeamie Deacon (Blackrock/Leinster) for Fitzhenry (53). Not used: Anna Caplice (UL Bohemians/Munster), Larissa Muldoon (Railway Union/Ulster).

Away Team

Mayu Shimizu (Nippon Sport Science Univ); Eriko Hirano (Yokohama TKM), Iroha Nagata (Arukas Queen Kumagaya), Riho Kurogi (Arukas Queen Kumagaya), Honoka Tsutsumi (Nippon Sport Science Univ); Minori Yamamoto (Nippon Sport Science Univ), Moe Tsukui (The Second HS, Tokyo University of Agriculture); Makoto Ebuchi (Aoyama Gakuin Univ/Tokyo Phoenix RC), Seina Saito (Pearls) (capt), Saki Minami (Nippon Sport Science Univ), Aoi Mimura (Yokohama TKM), Ayano Sakurai (Nippon Sport Science Univ), Yuki Sue (Arukas Queen Kumagaya), Sayaka Suzuki (RKU Rugby Ryugasaki Grace), Maki Takano (Nippon Sport Science Univ).

Replacements used: Aya Nakajima (Arukas Queen Kumagaya) for Mimura (37 mins), Yui Shiozaki (Tokyo Phoenix RC) for Takano (half-time), Yumeno Noda (Arukas Queen Kumagaya) for Tsukui (61), Misaki Suzuki (Tokyo Phoenix RC) for Ebuchi (63), Mizuho Kataoka (Yokohama TKM) for M Suzuki (75), Ayaka Suzuki (Arukas Queen Kumagaya) for Tsutsumi (77). Not used: Maiko Fujimoto (Yokohama TKM), AI Tasaka (Arukas Queen Kumagaya).

Match Scorers

Home Team

Tries: Alison Miller, Paula Fitzpatrick 2; Cons: Nora Stapleton 3; Pen: Nora Stapleton

Away Team

Tries: Penalty try, Mayu Shimizu; Con: Penalty try con, Mayu Shimizu