The Ireland Women marked their historic first appearance at the RDS with a well-judged 20-10 victory over a tenacious USA side.
Ahead of Adam Griggs’ final game in charge next week against Japan, Ireland overcame a scrappy start to score at crucial stages – aided by a dominant scrum – and their defence stood up to the Eagles’ second half surges.
The ever-impressive Beibhinn Parsons picked up another 40-metre try for the highlight reel and Leah Lyons burrowed over just before the break for a 12-5 Ireland lead.
The USA sandwiched in a neatly-crafted Bulou Mataitoga try, which came soon after a disallowed Saher Hamdan score as the visitors’ powerful forwards began to get over the gain-line.
Lively replacement Elizabeth Cairns crossed to make it a two-point game, but Lindsay Peat replied during Mataitoga’s sin-bin period and Stacey Flood sealed the result with a last-minute penalty.
It was a memorable night for 21-year-old back rower Maeve Óg O’Leary, who impressed in defence on her debut, while her Blackrock College club-mate Nichola Fryday’s set piece solidity and play in the loose earned her the Aon player-of-the-match award.
The Ireland squad wore black armbands in memory of Carol Miller, who sadly passed away last Sunday. Carol was a huge supporter of the team and showed great pride in the achievements of her daughter, Grand Slam-winning winger Alison.
Coming in off the back of a 2-0 series defeat to Canada, the Eagles got on an early roll, showing their physicality up front before Flood won a penalty at the breakdown in Ireland’s 22.
The hosts then won a scrum against the head, setting up returning number 8 Anna Caplice for a decibel-raising charge past the halfway line, which got Parsons into the game.
Handling errors blighted both teams’ progress up the pitch, the first serious opportunity presenting itself on the quarter hour mark when Eimear Considine rushed up in defence, creating a gap for Tess Feury to fly through.
However, her pass out to the right wing was knocked on by Mataitoga, and Ireland were also thwarted in the visitors’ 22, a good spell ended by a determined counter-ruck led by Alycia Washington.
The Eagles were in try-scoring range following a series of Irish penalties, yet wily prop Peat got in to disrupt Hope Rogers and win a relieving scrum, off which Caplice carried hard to gain metres.
The deadlock was broken soon after, Flood using a 25th-minute scrum near the right wing to kick out to the left where Parsons gathered it on the bounce and accelerated through a gap between Kayla Canett and Mataitoga to score in emphatic fashion.
Flood was unable to follow up with the conversion, but a brilliant scrum penalty made sure Ireland kept hold of the momentum until the Eagles pack went route one and were rewarded.
Ireland had a let-off when USA hooker Hamdan had a try ruled out for a prior knock-on by captain Kate Zackary, which was well spotted by eagle-eyed TMO Claire Hodnett.
Nonetheless, Rob Cain’s charges were not to be denied and from a second lineout maul platform, they worked the ball wide to the right where the Irish defence got sucked in and winger Mataitoga was freed up to score.
The conversion proved too difficult for Megan Foster, and Ireland had the ideal response. Carly Waters conceded a lineout, her forwards leaked a couple of penalties and tighthead Lyons burrowed over for a try after a great surge by lock Fryday in the build-up.
Flood’s well-struck conversion put seven points between the sides at half-time, but again the USA hit back strongly on the restart. Tighthead Rogers was to the fore as the forwards got them on the front foot.
A free-flowing attack reached the Irish 22 where Foster, Canett and Katana Howard combined superbly, the latter cutting in off her left before popping a one-handed offload away for Cairns to finish off.
Ireland rushed up to deny Foster her conversion attempt after the American out-half had started her run-up but dithered. The momentum soon swung back behind the home side with their lineout maul causing serious damage.
The first drive near the left corner was collapsed by Mataitoga, who was promptly yellow carded by referee Sara Cox, and the subsequent drive – following a nice Fryday take – was propelled over the line for Peat to score.
The loosehead score’s went unconverted, Ireland’s seven-point lead remaining in place with the USA blowing their next opportunities with a crooked lineout and the failure to convert a dangerous Zackary break.
Further American pressure had them on the cusp of a try, but young replacements Neve Jones and O’Leary, who had just replaced captain Ciara Griffin, combined to hold up Cairns from close range.
Feury was inches away from scoring, with Lauren Delany and Laura Sheehan scrambling to deny her right on the line after pacy full-back Canett had turned a Foster kick into a threatening attack.
Canett’s running continued to cause problems during the final quarter, but the USA failed to capitalise on a four-player overlap as Ireland got away without conceding a levelling try.
Replacement Eve Higgins’ turnover penalty had the girls in green marching back downfield, and a strong finish produced a penalty for Flood to split the posts with the last kick of the night.
TIME LINE: 25 minutes – Ireland try: Beibhinn Parsons – 5-0; conversion: missed by Stacey Flood – 5-0; 35 mins – USA try: Bulou Mataitoga – 5-5; conversion: missed by Megan Foster – 5-5; 39 mins – Ireland try: Leah Lyons – 10-5; conversion: Stacey Flood – 12-5; Half-time – Ireland 12 USA 5; 44 mins – USA try: Elizabeth Cairns – 12-10; conversion: missed by Megan Foster – 12-10; 49 mins – USA yellow card: Bulou Mataitoga; 50 mins – Ireland try: Lindsay Peat – 17-10; conversion: missed by Stacey Flood – 17-10; 80+1 mins – Ireland penalty: Stacey Flood – 20-10; Full-time – Ireland 20 USA 10
Referee: Sara Cox (England)